Bible Book Number 50—Philippians
Place Written: Rome
Writing Completed: c. 60–61 C.E.
1. (a) How did the Philippians come to hear the good news? (b) What historical background is of interest about the city of Philippi?
WHEN the apostle Paul received the call in a vision to carry the good news into Macedonia, he and his companions, Luke, Silas, and young Timothy, were quick to obey. From Troas in Asia Minor, they traveled by ship to Neapolis and set out at once for Philippi, about 9.5 miles [15 km] inland over a mountain pass. The city is described by Luke as “the principal city of the district of Macedonia.” (Acts 16:12) It was named Philippi after the Macedonian king Philip II (father of Alexander the Great), who captured the city in 356 B.C.E. Later it was taken by the Romans. It was the site of decisive battles in 42 B.C.E. that helped to strengthen the position of Octavian, who later became Caesar Augustus. In commemoration of the victory, he made Philippi a Roman colony.
2. What progress did Paul make with his preaching in Philippi, and what events attended the birth of the congregation there?
2 It was Paul’s custom on arrival in a new city to preach first to the Jews. However, on his first arrival in Philippi about 50 C.E., he found these few in number and apparently without a synagogue, for they used to meet for prayer on a riverbank outside the town. Paul’s preaching quickly bore fruit, one of the first converts being Lydia, a businesswoman and Jewish proselyte, who readily embraced the truth about the Christ and insisted that the travelers stay at her house. “She just made us come,” writes Luke. Opposition was soon encountered, however, and Paul and Silas were beaten with rods and then imprisoned. While they were in the prison, an earthquake occurred, and the jailer and his family, listening to Paul and Silas, became believers. The next day Paul and Silas were released from prison, and they visited the brothers at the home of Lydia and encouraged them before leaving the city. Paul carried with him vivid memories of the tribulations surrounding the birth of the new congregation in Philippi.—Acts 16:9-40.
3. What later contacts did Paul have with the Philippian congregation?
3 A few years later, during his third missionary tour, Paul was again able to visit the Philippian congregation. Then, about ten years after first establishing the congregation, a touching expression of the love of the brothers in Philippi moved Paul to write them the inspired letter that has been preserved in the Holy Scriptures under the name of that beloved congregation.
4. What identifies the writer of Philippians, and what proves the authenticity of the letter?
4 That Paul did write the letter, as stated in its first verse, is generally accepted by Bible commentators, and with good reason. Polycarp (69?-155? C.E.) in his own letter to the Philippians mentions that Paul had written to them. The letter is quoted as from Paul by such early Bible commentators as Ignatius, Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Clement of Alexandria. It is cited in the Muratorian Fragment of the second century C.E. and in all other early canons, and it appears side by side with eight other letters of Paul in the Chester Beatty Papyrus No. 2 (P46), believed to be from about 200 C.E.
5. What points to Rome as the place of writing?
5 The place and date of writing can be established with reasonable certainty. At the time of writing, Paul was a prisoner in the custody of the Roman emperor’s bodyguard, and there was a great deal of Christian activity going on around him. He closed his letter with greetings from the faithful ones in Caesar’s household. These facts combine to point to Rome as the place from which the letter was sent.—Phil. 1:7, 13, 14; 4:22; Acts 28:30, 31.
6. What evidence is there for the time of the writing of Philippians?
6 But when was the letter written? It seems that Paul had already been in Rome long enough for the news of and reasons for his imprisonment as a Christian to have spread right through the emperor’s Praetorian Guard and to many others. Also, there had been time for Epaphroditus to come from Philippi (some 600 miles distant [1,000 km]) with a gift for Paul, for news of Epaphroditus’ illness in Rome to get back to Philippi again, and for expressions of sorrow at this to come from Philippi to Rome. (Phil. 2:25-30; 4:18) Since Paul’s first imprisonment in Rome took place about 59-61 C.E., he very likely wrote this letter about 60 or 61 C.E., a year or more after his first arrival in Rome.
7. (a) What bond existed between Paul and the Philippians, and what stirred him to write? (b) What kind of letter is Philippians?
7 The birth pangs experienced in begetting these children at Philippi through the word of truth, the Philippians’ affection and generosity with gifts of needed things that followed Paul through many of his travels and hardships, and Jehovah’s signal blessings of the initial missionary labors in Macedonia all combined to forge a strong bond of mutual love between Paul and the Philippian brothers. Now their kind gift, followed by their anxious inquiry about Epaphroditus and the progress of the good news in Rome, stirred Paul to write them a warm and affectionate letter of upbuilding encouragement.
CONTENTS OF PHILIPPIANS
8. (a) How does Paul express his confidence in and affection for the Philippian brothers? (b) What does Paul say about his prison bonds, and what counsel does he give?
8 Defense and advancement of the good news (1:1-30). Paul and Timothy send greetings, and Paul thanks God for the contribution the Philippians have made to the good news “from the first day until this moment.” He is confident they will carry their good work to a completion, for they are sharers with him in the undeserved kindness, including “the defending and legally establishing of the good news.” He yearns for all of them in tender affection and says: “This is what I continue praying, that your love may abound yet more and more . . . that you may make sure of the more important things.” (1:5, 7, 9, 10) Paul wants them to know that his “affairs have turned out for the advancement of the good news,” in that his prison bonds have become public knowledge and the brothers have been encouraged to speak the word of God fearlessly. While there is gain for Paul to die now, yet he knows that for the sake of their advancement and joy, it is more necessary for him to remain. He counsels them to behave in a manner worthy of the good news, for whether he comes to them or not, he wants to hear that they are fighting on in unity and are ‘in no respect being frightened by their opponents.’—1:12, 28.
9. How may the Philippians keep Christ’s mental attitude?
9 Keeping the same mental attitude as Christ (2:1-30). Paul encourages the Philippians to lowliness of mind, ‘keeping an eye, not in personal interest upon just their own matters, but also in personal interest upon those of the others.’ They should be of the same mental attitude as Christ Jesus, who, though existing in God’s form, emptied himself to become a man and humbled himself in obedience as far as death, so that God has exalted him and given him a name above every other name. Paul exhorts them: “Keep working out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” “Keep doing all things free from murmurings and arguments,” and keep “a tight grip on the word of life.” (2:4, 12, 14, 16) He hopes to send Timothy to them and is confident that he himself will also come shortly. For the present, that they may rejoice again, he is sending them Epaphroditus, who has recovered from his sickness.
10. How has Paul pursued toward the goal, and what does he admonish for others?
10 “Pursuing down toward the goal” (3:1–4:23). ‘We of the real circumcision,’ says Paul, ‘must look out for the dogs, for those who mutilate the flesh.’ If anyone has grounds for confidence in the flesh, Paul has more so, and his record as a circumcised Jew and a Pharisee proves it. Yet all of this he has considered loss ‘on account of the excelling value of the knowledge of Christ Jesus his Lord.’ Through the righteousness that is by faith, he hopes to “attain to the earlier resurrection from the dead.” (3:2, 3, 8, 11) Therefore, says Paul, “forgetting the things behind and stretching forward to the things ahead, I am pursuing down toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God by means of Christ Jesus.” Let as many as are mature have the same mental attitude. There are those whose god is their belly, who have their minds upon things on the earth, and whose end is destruction, but “as for us,” Paul affirms, “our citizenship exists in the heavens.”—3:13, 14, 20.
11. (a) What are the things to be considered and practiced? (b) What expression does Paul make with regard to the Philippians’ generosity?
11 ‘Rejoice in the Lord,’ Paul exhorts, ‘and let your reasonableness become known to all men. Continue considering the things that are true and of serious concern, things that are righteous, chaste, lovable, well spoken of, virtuous, and praiseworthy. Practice what you learned and accepted and heard and saw in connection with me, and the God of peace will be with you.’ (4:4-9) Paul rejoices greatly in the Philippians’ generous thoughts toward him, though he has the strength for all things “by virtue of him who imparts power.” He thanks them warmly for their gift. From the start of his declaring the good news in Macedonia, they have excelled in giving. In turn, God will fully supply all their “need to the extent of his riches in glory by means of Christ Jesus.” (4:13, 19) He sends greetings from all the holy ones, including those of the household of Caesar.
12. How may we today, like the brothers at Philippi, gain God’s approval and become a joy to our brothers?
12 How beneficial the book of Philippians is for us! We certainly desire Jehovah’s approval and the same kind of commendation from our Christian overseers that the congregation at Philippi received from Paul. This can be ours if we follow the fine example of the Philippians and the loving counsel of Paul. Like the Philippians, we should manifest generosity, be concerned to aid our brothers when they are in difficulty, and share in the defending and legally establishing of the good news. (1:3-7) We should continue “standing firm in one spirit, with one soul striving side by side for the faith of the good news,” shining as “illuminators” in among a crooked and twisted generation. As we do these things and continue considering the things of serious concern, we may become a joy to our brothers in the same way that the Philippians became a crowning joy to the apostle Paul.—1:27; 2:15; 4:1, 8.
13. In what ways may we unitedly imitate Paul?
13 “Unitedly become imitators of me,” says Paul. Imitate him in what way? One way is to be self-sufficient under all circumstances. Whether Paul had an abundance or was in want, he learned to adjust himself uncomplainingly to the circumstances, so as to continue zealously and with rejoicing in God’s ministry. All should be like Paul, too, in showing tender affection for faithful brothers. With what affectionate joy he spoke of the ministry of Timothy and Epaphroditus! And how close he felt to his Philippian brothers, whom he addressed as “beloved and longed for, my joy and crown”!—3:17; 4:1, 11, 12; 2:19-30.
14. What fine counsel does the letter to the Philippians give with regard to the goal of life and the Kingdom, and to whom especially is the letter addressed?
14 How else may Paul be imitated? By “pursuing down toward the goal”! All who have set their minds on the ‘things of serious concern’ are vitally interested in Jehovah’s marvelous arrangement in heaven and earth, wherein ‘every tongue will openly acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.’ The fine counsel in Philippians encourages all who hope for eternal life in connection with God’s Kingdom to pursue that goal. The letter to the Philippians, however, is addressed primarily to those whose “citizenship exists in the heavens” and who eagerly await being “conformed to [Christ’s] glorious body.” “Forgetting the things behind and stretching forward to the things ahead,” let all of these imitate the apostle Paul in “pursuing down toward the goal for the prize of the upward call,” their glorious inheritance in the Kingdom of the heavens!—4:8; 2:10, 11; 3:13, 14, 20, 21.