by Jeff Dominguez
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
– Philippians 4:4-7
Welcome to our Bible study of Paul’s letter to the Philippians!
In this session, we will first study the background of this letter.
As we said in our introduction to the prison epistles, the church at Philippi is one of the churches that reached out to Paul during his first imprisonment in Rome. To learn more about this church, we can read the backstory in Acts 16:9-40.
Here is a summary of the profile of the Philippian church and the background of the letter:
ABOUT THE CITY:
1) Luke described Philippi as “the leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony” (Acts 16:12).
2) It was named after Philip of Macedon, a Roman king, and it was the first European church that Paul established.*
ABOUT THE CHURCH and its MEMBERS:
1) One of the earliest known members of this church was the businesswoman called Lydia. Luke told her conversion story in Acts 16:11-15.
2) Alongside Lydia, Luke also revealed that there were many women members in this church (Acts 16:13).
3) Another famous member of this church was the Jailer who guarded Paul and Silas whose conversion story became one of the best templates for evangelism (Acts 16:25-34).
4) The Philippian church was not spared from demonic attacks. During their stay, Paul encountered a slave girl who had a “spirit of divination” which Paul eventually exorcised (Acts 16:16-18).
5) In the letter itself, Paul mentioned that there were “overseers and deacons” (elders and bishops) in this church (Phil. 1:1).
6) There’s also Epaphroditus, the one who brought the gifts from the Philippians (Phil. 4:18) and delivered Paul’s letter to them (Phil. 2:25-30).
7) The Philippian church is believed to be composed of mostly, if not entirely, Gentiles since there was no mention of any Jewish synagogue which Paul normally visits on his mission trips.
8) According to Norman Geisler in his book, A Popular Survey of the New Testament, the Philippians church was a “wealthy and generous church.” The proof of this is the fact that this church was the leading city in Macedonia during that time (Acts 16:12), that it had businesswomen like Lydia (Acts 16:14), and that they were very generous financially (Phil. 4:10-18).
ABOUT THE LETTER:
1) Paul wrote this letter around 61-62 AD.
2) It is very evident that Paul wrote this letter (Phil. 1:1). It is also evident that he was in prison when he wrote this because he mentioned that he was in “chains” (Phil. 1:13).
WHAT IS IT ABOUT?
The Central Theme of the Book of Philippians is EXULTATION IN CHRIST. Or in a more familiar word, it is JOY IN CHRIST. As the key verse states: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4).
As proof, in this letter, Paul mentioned the word “Rejoice” or “Joy” approximately 14 times.* Aside from thanking the Philippians for their help and support, Paul also took the opportunity to encourage the Philippians to find their joy in Christ regardless of the circumstances. He used his struggles and hardships as a testimony to prove that no matter what our circumstances are, we should always seek our joy and hope in Christ alone. In addition, Paul also presents Christ as the key and model of Christian living. One example is Christ’s humility that Paul wants every believer to imitate (Phil. 2:1-11). We will learn more about this as we go through our study of this amazing letter.
SO WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM THIS?
Again, the central theme of Philippians is finding joy in Christ in every circumstance of life.
Now, to some, being happy while having problems sounds insane. Of course, if you have a problem, it is normal to feel sad, depressed, or hopeless. Unfortunately, the problem with this is that many people get stuck in this zone of negative emotions. As a result, this makes them miserable and defeated in life. But as Paul said in his first letter to the Thessalonians, this is not God’s will for His people. On the contrary, Paul said:
“REJOICE ALWAYS, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; FOR THIS IS THE WILL OF GOD IN CHRIST JESUS FOR YOU.“
– 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
As Paul clearly said, God’s will for us is to rejoice always. The “always” there is not just during the good times, but also during the bad times. Life is messy. No one in this world can live a life that is without troubles or hardships. Jesus assured us of this fact in John 16:33. So what am I trying to point out?
Again, the central message of the Book of Philippians is finding joy in Christ. It has two aspects: 1) WE SHOULD FIND JOY IN WHATEVER CIRCUMSTANCES OF LIFE, and 2) WE ARE TO FIND THIS JOY IN CHRIST ALONE. This is the will of God for us.
As Jesus said, all of us will have troubles in this world, no one is exempted. So the question that is left to us is how we will respond. This is what distinguishes Christians from Non-Christians. Christians also face troubles in this world, but we can observe that despite all that, they remain peaceful and joyful because they have Christ in their lives. The unbelievers, on the other hand, succumb to worry and misery because they have no one to rely on but themselves.
So as you can see, to have Christ in our lives is truly a wonderful gift! I always use the passage where Christ calmed the storm as the visual description of the Christian life.
They were in a boat in the middle of the storm but they did not sink because they have Jesus with them. Similarly, we also experience troubles in this world but it doesn’t defeat us because we also have Jesus with us. And as Jesus said, He already overcame the world. In short, we have nothing to worry about! So let’s take heart! Let’s find our joy in Christ! 🙂
So this is a summary of the background of this letter. Next week, we will begin our verse-by-verse analysis of this letter, starting with Chapter 01.
God Bless! 🙂
*Geisler, Norman L. A Popular Survey of The New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 2007.