An Introduction to Philippians
Worthy of the Gospel

When we first engage a book of the Bible it is important to spend some time in background study.  A good background study will involve at least two aspects (all of which and more can be found in most Bible commentaries):

1)     Context – The profit of studying context is that it helps us interpret the text rightly.  The Bible never means what it never meant (Fee and Stuart – How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth).  Studying context also helps us to not exempt ourselves from the demands of the text.  Most would think that such study would alienate us from the text and that we would indeed find reasons to exempt ourselves.  The Bible is old and culturally distant, but it is eternally relevant and so the very opposite of what we would expect takes place.  A thorough background study will actually bring the reader more closely to the Bible’s originally recipients.  Good study builds sympathy not distance.  We find ourselves more like them that we originally thought.  There are two general types of context we observe.


Historical – What is the life situation of the recipients?
Biblical – Where does the text fit into the Bible?


2)    Structure – The profit of studying structure is that it helps us familiarize ourselves with the way the letter works and seeing how the argument progresses.  What is the one central idea that holds it together?  How does each paragraph and statement in the letter support this central idea?  We do this to keep ourselves from merely seeing the letter as a bunch of verses.  We would read one of Paul’s letters much differently than we would Proverbs.  This is an important conversation between Paul and a church.  They understood what he was saying.  We study structure by:


    1)    Reading the text in whole.
    2)    Observing the flow of the text from paragraph to paragraph.
    3)    Identifying key verse or passage that holds it all together.
    4)    Find an outline that communicates the text to us.

 I.    Context


A.    Philippi


1)    One of the most well known cities of the ancient world.
2)    Highly developed with baths, marvelous temples, libraries, gymnasiums, streets, and an acropolis (upper city).
3)    Became a capital center for politics, philosophy, and a military outpost about 800 miles from Athens.
4)    Religiously “charged” area taking not only the Roman cult gods seriously but participating fervently in emperor worship.  There were only two types of religion in Philippi, legal and illegal.
 
B.    The Church at Philippi – The story of the Philippian church is in Acts 16.  There you will notice several key characters who are mentioned in Paul’s letter.  Paul founded the church during his second missionary journey in the early 50’s (1st century AD).  Two critical facets of Paul’s story are developed in Philippi.  1)  Paul gains some important partners who help not only support him personally, but help finance his church planting efforts as he spreads the gospel to the Greek world.  2)  We also get a glimpse into Paul’s experience in prison.  Many of the admonitions and behaviors Paul fosters in his letter to the Philippians are exemplified in the way he spent his time in prison in Philippi.  At the time of Paul’s writing it is probably the late 50’s or early 60’s and Paul has been imprisoned again.  Even still, the Philippians remain not only person friends but ardent supports of his work.


C.    Occasion – 


1)    The Philippians have made a contribution to Paul and he is sending Epaphroditus back with a letter not only thanking them, but instructing them and answering some of their concerns as a congregation.  The letter serves as a note of gratitude and a missionary report (1:12ff, 4:8-13).
2)    The people were personally concerned for Epaphroditus’ health.  His return would encourage them (2:25-30).
3)    As supporters, Paul needs to give the Philippians perspective on his imprisonment.  This is not only an update to assure them he is currently well, but that whatever happens it is not a failure of God’s plan for the gospel (1:12-25).
4)    Paul uses the letter to address the Philippian concerns over Paul’s opponents (1:15-18) and to warn them about false teachers who have entered their congregation (3:2-11).
5)    In light of the growing dangers surrounding their support of the gospel, the people needed to receive an apostolic admonition toward doctrinal integrity, missional solidarity, and congregational unity (4:2-9).


I.    Structure

      Key passage – 1:27-30 – A life worthy of the gospel


    1)    Congregational unity in the gospel


    a)    One spirit
    b)    One mind
    c)    Striving side by side


    2)    Faithful in suffering


    a)    A refusal to back down from opponents.
    b)    Living examples of a saved people strengthened by God in the gospel.
    c)    Seeing suffering as much a part of the call of the gospel as believing.
    d)    Partners in the greater/global conflict of the gospel.




    I)    Outline

    A.    Salutation (1:1-2)


    B.    Thanksgiving and joyful intercession (1:3-11)


    1.    Thanksgiving from a full heart (1:3-6)
    2.    The apostle’s affection (1:7-8)
    3.    Intercession for love and discernment (1:9-11)


    C.    The Priority of the Gospel for Paul (1:9-11)


    1.    The progress of the gospel (1:12-14)
    2.    Preaching Christ from different motives (1:15-18a)
    3.    Final vindication and glorifying Christ (1:18b-20)
    4.    Life or death (1:21-24)
    5.    An anticipated reunion? (1:25-26)


    D.    Conduct worthy of the gospel: exhortations and an example to the community (1:27-2:18).


    1.    Unity and courage in the face of opposition (1:27-30)
    2.    A call for unity and mutual consideration (2:1-4)
    3.    Christ Jesus, the supreme example of humility, solidarity, and faithfulness in suffering (2:5-11)


    (1)    Adopt Christ’s attitude (2:5)
    (2)    Learn from Christ’s example of humility (2:6-8)
    (3)    Be inspired by Christ’s exaltation by the Father (2:9-11)


    4.    Work out your salvation (2:12-18)


    E.    News about Timothy and Epaphroditus, two Christ-like examples (2:19-30)


    1.    Timothy (2:19-24)
    2.    Epaphroditus (2:25-30)


    F.    Warning against Judaizers. Following Paul’s example and teaching (3:1-21)


    1.    Watch Out for the Evil Workers (3:1–3)
    2.    Paul’s Past Life: Privileges and Achievements (3:4–6)
    3.    A Radical Change: Paul’s Present Values (3:7–11)
    4.    Pressing On toward the Goal (3:12–16)
    5.    True and False Models. A Heavenly Commonwealth and a Glorious Hope (3:17–21)


    G.    Final Exhortations (4:1–9)


    1.    Stand Firm (4:1)
    2.    Be United (4:2–3)
    3.    Rejoice, Be Gentle, Don’t Be Anxious (4:4–7)
    4.    Focussing on What Is Excellent, Following a Godly Model (4:8–9)


    H.    Paul’s thanks for the gift (4:10–20)

    I.    Final greetings (4:21–23)

Outline taken from: Peter Thomas O’Brien, The Epistle to the Philippians: a Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1991), 39.

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