Paul's Letter to the Philippians

Discovery for Teachers

Paul's Letter to the Philippians

OVERVIEW
DAYBREAK

SOURCE FOR QUESTIONS
Philippians 1:1 through 4:23

KEY VERSE FOR MEMORIZATION
“Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 3:13-14)

BACKGROUND

The Book of Philippians is a letter written by the Apostle Paul to the church at Philippi. Philippi was a city located in Macedonia, in the northern part of what is now Greece. It was located on the northern highway that connected the east with the west. Noted for its gold mines, it was an important Roman city and military port during Paul’s lifetime.

The church at Philippi was Paul’s first European church. It was founded by Paul around A.D. 51 with the help of Timothy, Silas, and Luke. Paul and his fellow workers went to Philippi during Paul’s second missionary journey after God showed them in a vision that they were to go to Macedonia. It is believed that Luke, the Gentile physician who wrote the Book of Acts and the Book of Luke, was its pastor for the first six years of its existence. The account of the church’s establishment can be found in Acts 16.

Paul wrote the letter to the Philippians from Rome, where he was in prison. It was written about ten years after the church had been founded, and three years after Paul had last visited there. The personal, affectionate tone of the letter reveals his close relationship with the church and its members. Out of all of the many churches that Paul founded and encouraged, Philippi was the only one that is recorded to have supported Paul financially. They sent several gifts of money to Paul for his ministry, and also had contributed to his collection for the poorer saints in Jerusalem. This reflects the trust and friendship that must have existed between the apostle and the people of the Philippian congregation.

Paul wrote this letter in thanks for a gift that the Philippians had sent to him. He had been out of contact with them, and may have believed that he had been forgotten. Then Epaphroditus, a member of the Philippian church, arrived in Rome with gifts and messages from the church. Epaphroditus found Paul in need of his encouragement, and stayed in Rome to help him for a time. When he became ill, apparently to the point of death, he extended his stay even longer than planned. Once he was well again, Paul sent him home with this letter of thanksgiving and a commendation for his helpfulness.

In addition to making very personal statements about his own faith, Paul encouraged the church at Philippi to keep the faith, be joyful, develop humility, and remain unified under Christ. Paul also took this opportunity to address two issues in the church that had come to his attention.

Apparently, there was a faction in the church that was causing strife over issues relating to the law and circumcision. Paul told the church to beware of these “evil workers” and to seek to have humility like Jesus. Also, he exhorted two women, Euodias and Syntyche, who were leaders of house churches in Philippi, to “be of the same mind in the Lord” instead of allowing a personal argument to cause division in the church.

He ended the letter by encouraging the church (and ultimately us) to rejoice, pray, be thankful, and keep their minds on the things of God.

SUGGESTED RESPONSES TO QUESTIONS

  1. Like most of Paul’s letters, the greeting in the letter to the Philippians includes some words of encouragement, and Paul’s prayers and spiritual desires for the church. What were some of the things that Paul wanted for the Philippians? Why do you think he might have included some of these in his greeting to them?

    Paul prayed that the Philippian christians would grow in Christ’s love, and he told them that God would continually help them to grow. He hoped that the Philippians would grow in knowledge, judgment, righteousness, and sincerity, and he wanted them to be mature Christians: people with good judgment and a genuine love for Christ and the church. He also told them of his love for them, and how he had missed them. The students may conclude that Paul included these things in his letter to encourage the saints at Philippi to continue to grow in Christ. He painted a mental picture for them of what a mature Christian is like so that they would have an example after which they could model their own lives.
  2. At the time Paul wrote this letter, he was imprisoned in Rome. This may seem like a dire circumstance to us, but Paul had an interesting perspective about his situation. In Philippians 1:12-18, what did Paul say about how God used his imprisonment?

    Paul wanted the Philippians to understand that God was using his imprisonment to further the Gospel. Paul’s status as a prisoner opened doors for him to witness to people he would not have otherwise met. He was able to influence people from the palace, and it seems that other Christians were emboldened by his example to preach as well. The Word of God was being preached throughout the city of Rome due to Paul’s imprisonment there.
  3. How can we apply to our own lives Paul’s perspective on difficult circumstances?

    God uses difficult circumstances to establish His lordship into our lives, and into the lives of others. Our attitudes during times of trial will have an effect on the people around us. If we apply Paul’s positive attitude to our own circumstances, we are in a position to bring glory to God and to draw us and the people around us into a closer relationship with Him.

    Note: While it is not covered in these questions, Paul also expressed a related dilemma in verses 19-26 of chapter 1. He wanted to go to Heaven to be with Jesus, but he also knew that he still had work to do on earth. He decided that it was “more needful” for him to abide in the flesh. His willingness to delay his own reward in Heaven in order to stay and serve on earth is another example of his humility and commitment to lead others to Christ.

  4. In chapter 2, Paul encouraged the Philippians to be humble and obedient, and to strive for unity. He pointed to Christ as the ultimate example of this kind of attitude. List the qualities found in verses 2-15. How can we cultivate this attitude in ourselves? According to verse 15, what is the spiritual reward for such an attitude?

    Some of the qualities listed might include: humility, obedience, a unified spirit, putting others ahead of ourselves, love, a sanctified life, caring and empathy toward others, service toward others, doing what needs to be done without complaining, and not arguing. We can cultivate a Christ-like attitude through prayer, vigilance, and obedience to God. The reward is that we will stand out from others in our competitive, “me-first” culture. Paul told the Philippians that they would “shine as lights in the world.”
  5. In chapter 2, verses 19-30, Paul lamented the lack of selfless, committed workers, and praised Timothy and Epaphroditus for their faithfulness. What are some of the qualities needed in an effective Christian worker?

    There are many things the students might mention as this question is discussed. A few that come to mind are: Fully committed to Christ, a person of prayer, faithful in things such as Bible reading and church attendance, reliable and faithful in keeping commitments, disciplined, willing, obedient to God, lives a Christian example.
  6. In chapter 3, Paul warned the Philippians against false prophets. Today, as in Paul’s time, there are false teachers and spiritual leaders who are more interested in power, money, and oppressing those under their care than in truly following Christ. How can we identify and guard against leaders such as this?

    We should know the truth of the Bible so well that we will recognize a lie when we hear it. We need to listen to the discernment that the Holy Spirit gives us. Also, we need to evaluate what we hear from teachers and spiritual leaders, comparing it to what we know of God and His nature. If it doesn’t sound right, or we feel troubled about something we see or hear, we need to investigate further, and ask God to show us the truth.
  7. In verses 9-21 of chapter 3, Paul recorded his own personal statement of faith, and reminded his readers that they were seeking the “prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” He encouraged them to copy his attitude, and promised that God would be faithful to show them if they did not have the right attitude. How can you “press toward the mark?”

    Students can “press toward the mark” by opening their hearts in prayer, and by listening for and recognizing the Voice of God. He will be faithful to reveal His will for each individual life. Many times, God may call us to relinquish some seemingly difficult things, but once we do, He is able to bless us more abundantly than before. Make sure students understand that the things of value on earth are worth nothing compared to the treasure waiting for us in Heaven.
  8. In chapter 4, Paul challenged the Philippians to “rejoice in the Lord.” What are some ways of ensuring this joy?

    Class discussion should bring out: keeping a continual attitude of rejoicing (v. 4), being considerate to “all” – saved or unsaved (v.5), praying instead of worrying (v.6), keeping God’s peace in our hearts and minds (v.7), keeping our minds on positive things (v.8), following the faithful ones who have lived Christian lives before us (v.9), learning to be content (v. 11).
  9. In verse 13 of chapter 4, Paul gives us the ultimate answer on how to cultivate humility and obedience, serve God, press toward the mark, and keep the joy of the Lord in our hearts. What is his conclusion?

    “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” In our own strength, living the Christian life can seem like an insurmountable task. However, when we allow Jesus to be our strength, He gives us the ability to do what we need to do. Ask your class to share personal examples from their own knowledge or experience.

CONCLUSION

Paul remained faithful and kept drawing closer to Christ until the end of his life. We can learn much from his example. He kept a positive attitude in hard times, faithfully followed and obeyed God, prayed regularly, kept himself humble, and shared his joy in the Lord with others.