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Philippians: a brief overview

1. Philippians is God’s Word. Like all of Scripture, Philippians is “breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16).

2. Philippians is Christ saturated. It is true that all of the Bible points us to Jesus. But there are some portions of Scripture which revel in the person and work of Jesus in almost every phrase. Philippians is like that. In fact, one of the most beautifully written statements of Christology in the entire New Testament is the great “Christ Hymn” of chapter two. Philippians consistently presses upon the reader both the facts and the implications of the gospel: “Have this mind among yourselves which is yours in Christ Jesus…” (Philippians 2:5).

3. Philippians is filled with expressions of love. Paul loved all of the churches he served. But it is clear that some of them caused him great grief. Not so with the church at Philippi. They were a consistent source of joy for Paul. He was grateful for their progress in the gospel. He was grateful for their personal support and generosity. That gratitude is expressed in tender and exuberant expressions of love throughout the epistle: “For God is my witness how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus” (1:8). Philippians therefore functions as an example of the sort of deep affection Christians ought to have for each other.

4. Philippians is a call to joy in the midst of great difficulty. Philippians is commonly recognized as Paul’s most joyful epistle. Indeed the joyfulness of the letter is made all the more remarkable given the fact that it was written from prison. Paul was facing possible execution. The Philippian Christians themselves were following Jesus in a city filled with the social and economic pressure to worship the gods of Rome, including the emperor: “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake” (1:29). Nevertheless Paul uses the word joy or one its derivatives more often in Philippians than in any of his other epistles. This is not mere sentiment. Rather it is a hard won joy. It is a joy that has the dying and rising of Christ as its foundation. And it is a joy that is available to all who call Jesus Lord.

5. Philippians is the overflow of a man for whom the world had lost all fascination. The world had lost its grip on Paul. Everything he had accomplished in the world (and he had accomplished much) was rubbish to him compared to knowing Christ as Lord. Indeed, compared to knowing Jesus Paul saw his worldly achievements as a net loss (3:4ff). Worldly status had lost its power to charm him. Paul summed up his life by writing, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain” (1:21). The world has no power over a man with that attitude.