Thanksgiving and Prayer (1:1-11)
1 As in his other letters, Paul begins this letter by sending a greeting to the Philippians (see 2 Corinthians 1:1; Ephesians 1:1 and comments). Timothy was with Paul when he wrote this letter (see Colossians 1:1).
Notice that Paul and Timothy are not masters in the church; rather, they are servants of Christ. There is no position higher than that of being a servant of Christ.
This letter is addressed to all the SAINTS—that is, believers—at Philippi. Christians in themselves are not “saints,” they are not holy. It is only IN CHRIST that they are holy. Believers receive Christ’s holiness or righteousness not according to their own worthiness but by the grace of God. To be a saint or to be holy means to be separated from all evil and impurity and to be set apart for God.
This letter is also addressed to the overseers2 and deacons of the Philippian church. The overseers were the chief leaders in the church; sometimes in the New Testament they are called elders (see Acts 14:23; 20:17; 1 Timothy 3:1; Titus 1:5-7 and comments; General Article: Church Government). The deacons are specially appointed members of the church, who have been given responsibility for the financial affairs and charitable work of the church (see Acts 6:1-6; 1 Timothy 3:8 and comments).
2 See Romans 1:7; Ephesians 1:2 and comments.
3-5 In verse 3, Paul gives thanks for the Philippian believers (see Romans 1:8-10; 1 Corinthians 1:4; Colossians 1:3-4,8 and comments). They have been partners with Paul in the GOSPEL—that is, in the preaching of the Gospel (verse 5). In the Greek language (the language in which Paul wrote all of his letters), the words for partnership and fellowship come from the same root. From this, we can understand that “fellowship” isn’t just meeting together; it’s working together—working together for the Gospel. Fellowship isn’t just having a good time; it is being yoked together under Christ’s yoke in order to serve Him.
Paul prays for the Philippians with joy (verse 4). This letter has been called the “epistle of joy,” because in it Paul mentions the word “joy” fifteen times.
6 God, by His grace, has begun in each one of us a good work. That “good work” began with God’s imparting to us Christ’s Spirit, Christ’s righteousness. God’s “good work,” in other words, was to make us a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). That was the beginning of God’s work. And in the end, just as fruit ripens on a tree, God will bring His “new creation” to completion—to perfection.3
When we look at ourselves and at each other, we can see that our lives are far from “complete” or perfect. But we must be patient both with ourselves and with each other. It takes time for fruit to ripen. In the same way, it takes time for God to perfect us and to make us holy (Philippians 3:12). True, as soon as we believe, God declares us to be righteous, to be holy in Christ (verse 1). That’s because God knows that in time we shall “ripen.” He knows that in the end we shall become perfect. Therefore, God regards us now as if we were already holy and righteous. But He works gradually to make us actually perfect in our daily lives.
From this verse we can take great hope. Perhaps some among us have become discouraged, because we see that our daily life is so imperfect. Perhaps we have a bad or sinful habit that we just can’t seem to overcome. But let us remember that God is constantly working in us (Philippians 2:13). And if we do not lose faith, God will surely complete the work of making us holy (see Romans 11:22; Colossians 1:22-23,28 and comments).
When will God’s work in our lives be completed? It will be completed on the day of Christ Jesus—that is, the day when Jesus comes again at the end of the world.4 Only after Christ comes again in glory will the work God has begun in our lives be complete. At that time the redemption of our bodies will take place (Romans 8:23), and we shall become like Christ (see Romans 8:29; 2 Corinthians 3:18; 1 John 3:2 and comments).
7-8 From these verses we can see how much Paul loved the Philippians. Paul loved them not just with a human love, but with the affection of Christ Jesus (verse 8). Paul calls the Philippians not only partners but also sharers with him in God’s GRACE. Whether Paul is in prison or not, the Philippians are Paul’s partners and fellow sharers in all things—in his joy, in his sufferings, and in the work of the Gospel (see verses 29-30).
9 Paul prays that the Philippians’ love may abound more and more. Paul prays that they might not love mindlessly or in ignorance, but that they might love with knowledge and depth of insight. It is not enough only to love; we must also love wisely (see Colossians 1:9).
10 Why do we need knowledge and depth of insight? (verse 9). The answer is so that we might be able to discern what is best. Before we can do what is best, we need to know what is best! Only then can our life be pure and blameless; only then can it be filled with the fruit of righteousness (verse 11). Thus Paul prays that the Philippians might remain pure and blameless until the day of Christ, when Christ will come again at the end of the world to judge all men (see 1 Corinthians 1:8; Philippians 1:6).
11 God has appointed us to bear fruit (John 15:16). What kind of fruit? There are two kinds of fruit we are expected to bear. The first kind of “fruit” is new disciples, those who come to faith in Christ through our witness. The second kind of fruit, the kind that Paul is mainly thinking about here, is the fruit of righteousness, which comes only through Christ (John 15:4-5). Our own righteousness is worthless in God’s sight; to Him, all our righteous acts are like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). Only the righteousness we have received through Jesus Christ will be to the glory and praise of God. The fruit of righteousness is the same as the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). This fruit is manifested in our good attitude and in our good works, in the blessings and loving help we give to others. Paul prays for the Colossians that they will bear fruit in every good work (Colossians 1:10). Let that be our prayer as well, both for ourselves and for each other!
Paul’s Chains Advance the Gospel (1:12-26)
12-14 At the time Paul wrote this letter, he was a prisoner in Rome (Acts 28:16; Philippians: Introduction). But even though Paul’s personal circumstances were bad, God was bringing good out of them. Paul’s sufferings had served to advance the gospel (verse 12). Furthermore, because of Paul’s imprisonment, his fellow Christians in Rome had been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly (verse 14). When we ourselves are facing trouble and persecution for Christ’s sake, let us remember these words of Paul. Because God will surely bring great good from our suffering also (see 2 Timothy 2:9).
15-17 Among the preachers of the Gospel in Rome, Paul, being an apostle, was the most famous. Therefore, some of the other preachers were jealous of Paul. They looked for an opportunity to pull Paul down and at the same time puff themselves up. They did indeed preach Christ (verse 15)—that is, they preached the true Gospel of Christ—but their purpose and motives were wrong. They preached out of selfish ambition, not sincerely (verse 17).
Let all preachers and servants of Christ examine themselves. Why are we preaching? Why are we working? Is it to enhance our own glory or Christ’s glory? Let there be no envy and rivalry among us! These are the works of the sinful nature, and those who indulge in such things will not inherit the kingdom of God (Galatians 5:19-21).
There were other preachers in Rome, however, who preached in love (verse 16). They showed respect for Paul. They knew that Paul had been imprisoned because of his labor for the Gospel of Christ.
18 Paul’s heart is big. If Christ’s Gospel is preached, he is happy—even if it is being preached by his enemies. He will do nothing to oppose them.
Let us follow Paul’s example in this. Suppose we learn that a Christian brother is wrongfully opposing us for some reason. If he, at the same time, is truly working for the Lord, we must not oppose him in return or speak against him. We must not try to “get even.” Rather, forgetting our own honor and reputation, we must support and encourage that brother in his work for the Lord.
19 Paul has complete faith that whatever happens to him will work for his good, for his deliverance,5 or salvation (Romans 8:28). By “deliverance,” Paul means not only deliverance from prison but also salvation in the next life (see 2 Timothy 4:18). Paul’s salvation will come through the prayers of his friends (like the Philippians) and through the help given by the Spirit of Jesus Christ—that is, the HOLY SPIRIT.
After reading this verse, let us always keep in mind how important our prayers are in the fulfilling of God’s purposes. Here we see the prayers of Christians mentioned right alongside the work of the Holy Spirit Himself.
20 Whether he lives or is condemned to death, Paul expects and hopes that Christ will be exalted in his body. If he lives, his life will be for Christ’s glory; if he dies, his death will be for Christ’s glory (Romans 14:8).
21 For to me, to live is Christ. Everything Paul did, he did for Christ’s sake and through Christ’s Spirit. Without Christ, Paul was nothing. Paul’s entire purpose in life was to serve and glorify Christ. Without Christ’s grace and power, Paul could not live (Galatians 2:20).
Nevertheless, Paul is also happy to die for Christ. For believers in Christ, it is more advantageous to die than to live (verse 23). Paul will go to heaven. In heaven there will be no chains, no prisons, no pain, no sin or weakness. There will be only eternal joy and fellowship with Christ. That is gain indeed! (see 2 Corinthians 5:8).
22-23 If Paul lives, he will continue to engage in fruitful labor (verse 22). If he dies, he will be with Christ (verse 23), which for him will be better by far. Paul can’t choose between living and dying; they are both good.
24 But Paul thinks about the Philippian church and the other churches he has established. For their sakes, Paul decides it would be better for him to live—to remain in the body. For his own sake it would be better to die; but for their sakes, it is necessary that he live.
25-26 Here Paul expresses the hope that he will be able to visit the Philippians again (see Philippians 2:24). As a result of his presence with them, Paul hopes they will progress still further in joy and faith.
It is not known whether or not Paul ever obtained his freedom. Many Bible scholars believe that Paul was freed for a few years. Perhaps he was able to visit the Philippians one or two more times. But the Bible does not say definitely what happened to Paul after this letter was written. The last thing we know for sure about Paul comes at the end of the book of Acts, when Paul is still a prisoner in Rome (Acts 28:16,3031).
Exhortation to Steadfastness (1:27-30)
27 … conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. To conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel, we must imitate Christ and lead a holy life. The Gospel of Christ is most effectively “preached” not with our tongues but with our lives (see Ephesians 4:1 and comment).
If the conduct of the Philippians remains worthy of the Gospel, then Paul will know that they are standing firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith—that is, for Christ and His Gospel.
To conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel, we must be united. We must stand firm in one spirit, and we must contend for the faith as one man.
Before we can contend for Christ as one man, we must first be united in one spirit. Yes, in one sense, we are already spiritually united in Christ through the Holy Spirit. But, in another sense, we ourselves, as we live and work together, must maintain and preserve that spiritual unity (Ephesians 4:3).
To preserve our spiritual unity, there must be personal love and harmony between each member of the church. Many people mistakenly suppose that, if we just begin to work on some project or program together, unity will automatically come. But that is not so. First of all, we must get rid of all personal hurt, anger, envy, and slander that may have arisen among us. We must ask forgiveness of each other—and we must grant forgiveness to those who ask for it. Only after that will we be able to contend and work together as one man. Only after we are joined together in one spirit will our work be pleasing to God (see Matthew 5:23-24).
28 In order to conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel (verse 27), we must be courageous and strong in Christ (1 Corinthians 16:13; Ephesians 6:10). Paul tells the Philippians not to fear those who oppose them. The Philippian church was a new church; it was small. Philippi was a great and important city; it was a Roman colony. The Romans strongly opposed the Christians. Thus the Philippians were surrounded on all sides by powerful enemies. But Paul is confident that their faith and steadfastness will serve as a sign or proof that they will be saved and their enemies will be destroyed. Those who oppose the Philippians also oppose God (Acts 5:3839).
29-30 It had been granted to the Philippians to suffer for Christ. Let them rejoice in this (see Matthew 5:10-11; Acts 5:41; Philippians 2:17-18; Colossians 1:24). If we share in [Christ’s] sufferings, we shall also share in his glory (Romans 8:17).
Paul was an example for the Philippians. They had seen the suffering he had endured when he first came to Philippi (Acts 16:1924; 1 Thessalonians 2:2). Now Paul is in chains. Yet he continues to be filled with joy and hope. Let the Philippians be encouraged by his example! (see verse 14).