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I’ve read through the book a number of times leading up to this series, each time seeing something new and fresh. Each time it seemed the Lord was impressing on me Paul’s words in chapter 3, “forgetting what is behind, straining to what is ahead, pressing on toward the goal”. Paul’s goal was whatever Christ’s goal was for him.

If I needed to summarize what the book speaks of it would be: Paul was a missionary, who loved the Lord, loved the church and lived for the gospel. We’re God’s missionaries, planted here by God for such a time as this to love the Lord and live the gospel.

Planting the church at Philippi

Paul first went to Philippi on his second missionary journey about AD 50 (Acts 16:12). At the time of Paul’s visiting, then subsequent writing Philippi[1] was a small but strategically located city east of Rome with a rich heritage and distinctive culture. Philippi was a Roman Colony/settlement made up mainly of settlers and descendants of those involved in mid-century BC battles. But the people were both Roman and Greek and speaking predominantly Greek even though Latin was the official language.

The city had a Roman character, the way it looked and ran appear to have been modelled on the city of Rome, and worship of the emperor[2] was an important element in the religious life of the city.

That Paul travelled into this area to preach the gospel at all was not of his own choosing. When we refer to Acts 16:6-10 the Holy Spirit kept Paul and his companions from preaching in Asia, the Lord gives Paul a vision for Macedonia (Thessalonians Church also here) and off they go. Scripture says (Acts 16:10) “they concluded that God had called us to preach the gospel to them”

He visited again about five years later on his third journey (Acts 20:1-2), and once more on his return journey (Acts 20:6).

When Paul, Timothy, and Silas left Philippi they left behind a small but diverse group of Christians. The business owner Lydia – one of the first people to respond to the Lord – and her household believed (Acts 16:15)…a jailer and his family (Acts 16:16 – 18), and perhaps a slave women (Acts 16:18). Between them and possibly a few others that scripture doesn’t specifically mention, was the start of the Philippian Church. Lydia’s house (Acts 16:40), was where they initially met; a diverse, and intergenerational church.

Writing to the church?

About ten years after first planting the church, about AD 61, Paul wrote to the Philippians while he was under house arrest in Rome[3] (Acts 28:16) while awaiting a trial where the expected outcome was execution (Philippians 1:7, 13–14, 17, 20, 30; 2:17). He would have known a good number of the people he was writing to for more than ten years at that point, especially Lydia his first convert there.

The book of Philippians is written to show Paul’s appreciation and love to the Philippians in a thank-you letter for their continued help and support, and also to encourage their growth in Christ, to “press on toward the goal”. For all the matters that Paul writes about this was a proactive missional church.

They financially supported Paul and even sent one of their members – Epaphroditus – to Paul to encourage him while in prison. I want to say, though the church had wealthy members, the support they gave Paul was particularly generous for the size church they were.

….”not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid more than once when I was in need” (4:15-16)

In many ways, Philippians is about the core hallmarks of what being Christian looks like. So yes Paul writing to a 1st-century church relevant to and dealing with 1st-century issues, but like most, if not all Paul writes, has great relevance for the church today. The overarching theme is encouragement to the church, and here are a few key verses and thoughts to highlight these…

(1:12) Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. (1:29-30) For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him but also to suffer for him.

Paul’s suffering and imprisonment did not hold back God’s work but instead advanced the work of God. Themes here are that Christians are to surrender their lives in service to Christ irrespective of the external circumstances. Being Christian and suffering (for us perhaps different types of suffering) go hand in hand.

(2:3-5) Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.  In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus.

Being Christian and humility – preferring the other person – go hand in hand. We are encouraged to adopt the same way of thinking and acting and responding to others as Christ.

For all the great things the Philippians were doing, they were not unified. A conflict between Euodia and Syntyche had spread to the whole church (4:2), resulting in arguing and complaining in the whole group, and bigger than that, affecting the church’s witness to the wider, unbelieving community (2:14 – 16).

This teaches us something about valuing working together, the value of diversity. God had called each of these folk/families from very different circumstances to be part of his people and, they had no choice but to work at unity. Being Christian and working together in our diversity go hand in hand.

Being Christian and having confidence in him, not in our own strength, go hand in hand. Relating to his own past and experiences Paul teaches that nothing is as important as devotion to Jesus.

(3:13-14) Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

There is a more subtle theme in the letter, that of the church’s relationship to the world around it. The societies Paul ministered in did not make his task easy, in fact, were not friendly. At no point, however, did Paul teach that Christians should retreat from the world.

Paul’s “joy” was engaging anyone around him with the gospel, his chains advanced the gospel. His encouragement to the Philippians was to “shine like stars in the universe” (2:15)

Paul called the unbelieving world a “crooked and depraved generation” (2:15) — but he was convinced nonetheless that the world belongs to God, and that although fallen, in Christ God was (and is) reconciling the world to himself (2 Cor. 5:19).  Therefore Being Christian and engaging with the lost go hand in hand.

And in the final chapter, like a bookend, but really to be considered as the thread to apply to all his teaching: Being Christian and prayer with thanksgiving go hand in hand.

(4:4-7) Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

These are the key themes that, irrespective of the time elapsed between then and now and the cultural differences, still apply to the church in 2018.

Philippians is a real letter, written to real people about real issues. Because of this, I want to encourage us to make it personal. READ Philippians and let’s give the Holy Spirit room to move in our lives and simply ask:

What is the message to me?

How can I grow in Christ?


Communion (READ Phil. 2:5-11)

At this table of grace we are encouraged and reminded, that our attitudes and motives are to be like Jesus’; we are encouraged and reminded to self-sacrifice and to serve like Jesus; and we are encouraged and reminded that it is Jesus who is our Lord, and it is to him we bow our knee. There is grace today for salvation, grace for our sin, grace, and grace to move forward in Christ.


[1] Named after Philip ii, father of Alexander the Great

[2] Tiberius Caesar was succeeded in 41AD by his uncle, Claudius. Claudius was followed by his 17-year-old stepson Nero in 54AD. (From:

[3] There is dispute among scholars where the letter was written. Acts (28:16, 30) says Rome , others claim Ephesus, even though there is no reference in Acts to imprisonment in Ephesus. Two reasons: Ephesus was closer to Philippi than to Rome and Paul spent nearly three years there (Acts 19:8, 10; 20:31).