Philippians: An Epistle of Joy (Philippians 1-4)

Scripture reading – Philippians 1-4

Our study of Paul’s “Prison Epistles” concludes with the beloved Epistle to the Philippians, and was written to “all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons” (1:1). Though written in particular to believers in Philippi, the epistle has been providentially preserved for the saints of all ages.

Introduction to the City of Philippi

The city of Philippi, located in eastern Macedonia, was on a major traderoute between Asia and Europe and was the gateway between two continents. The city had a large population, was a center for Greek culture, and had become a thriving commercial center in Paul’s day.

Apart from Paul’s epistle, there is little mention of Philippi in the New Testament. It was in Philippi where we first met the Jewess named Lydia, a woman described as a “seller of purple,” and who became a believer in Christ, the Messiah (Acts 16:14-15). Paul and Silas had also been jailed in Philippi, following an uprising led by some who protested their trade in idols was being harmed. When God had sent an earthquake that opened the doors of the prison, Paul bid the jailer to not take his own life; and he and his family became believers and were baptized (Acts 16:30-34).

The Circumstances of Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians

Scholars believe the letter was sent by Paul to Philippi sometime between 60 and 65 A.D. The apostle, now an elderly statesman of the Gospel, was under house arrest, and humanly speaking appeared to be on the shelf of ministry service. Unable to travel, his future uncertain, and the reality of martyrdom being a very real fate, it would have been an easy step for Paul to despair of life.

Though bound by Caesar, Paul was a prisoner of the Lord and his heart effused with the joy of ministering to believers. Instead of an epistle conveying gloom and despair, Paul penned a letter expressing love and joy! He was buoyed by a mutual love and affection that he shared with the believers at Philippi. His care and expressions of love fill the pages of this epistle (1:2-4, 7, 9). Even in the midst of his own bondage, Paul writes, “I pray, that your love may abound [abounding love] yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment” (1:9).

Following the example of the apostle’s self-sacrificing love and ministry, the believers at Philippi had evidenced their love and affection for Paul in very tangible ways. They were, as many have observed:

Models of JOY: Jesus first; Others second; and Yourself last.

Appreciating the abundance of God’s grace bestowed on them through Paul preaching the Gospel, the Philippians gave sacrificially, even out of their poverty (2 Corinthians 8:1-4). They became models of self-sacrificing giving, disregarding their own needs, they gave cheerfully “by the will of God” (2 Corinthians 8:5). When Paul was in need, they sent a generous offering to support his ministry (Philippians 4:14-16), even sending Epaphroditus, one of their own to minister to Paul in Rome (2:25-30).

I have merely touched upon the mutual love Paul and the saints at Philippi had for one another. Suffice it to say, their affectionate bond should encourage 21st century believers and their ministers to cultivate the same loving relationship between those who minister, and those who are served.

Philippians 4:1 – Therefore, my brethren dearly beloved and longed for, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, my dearly beloved.

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith