Philippians - A Brief Overview

Two men speaking into megaphones

Paul wrote to the Philippians to thank them for a gift (4:10–19) (it is always good to be thankful for anything we receive); but there was a problem in the meeting in Philippi, and Paul took advantage of writing to address this as well—two saints did not get on with one another (4:2).

But if these two reasons for writing are only mentioned in chapter 4, what are the other three chapters about? Well, Paul does not address the two “arguing” saints until he had shown how this problem could be overcome. This is the content of the first three chapters.

Firstly, Paul expressed his wish that the Philippian saints would be blessed (1:8–11).

Then Paul told them news of his present state. He was in prison but rejoicing in the Lord. His own state was of no importance to him. So long as the Lord was glorified, he was happy (1:12–18). His dictum for life is summed up in verse 21, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain”. He wanted to go to be with the Lord but, knowing that it was to their benefit to remain, he put them before himself and said that he would rather remain there (1:22–30). Thus in Paul’s life Christ was first, others second, and himself last.

Then in chapter 2 Paul speaks of his desire for them (2:1–4). These verses may be the key to understanding the epistle, and therefore I will quote verses 2–4 in full, “fulfil my joy, that ye may think the same thing, having the same love, joined in soul, thinking one thing; let nothing be in the spirit of strife or vain glory, but, in lowliness of mind, each esteeming the other as more excellent than themselves; regarding not each his own qualities, but each those of others also.” How can we do what he requests?

Paul then speaks of the example of the Lord Jesus. The way the Lord Jesus is presented in every epistle is very important to understanding what the epistle is teaching. Here He is presented as the One who, though He had the highest possible place (He was God the Son, equal with the Father), in Manhood took the very lowest place for us (2:5–8). God shows His approval of this in raising Him up as seen in in verses 9–11. But the critical point to note is that we too are encouraged to have this same mind (2:5); it is not something beyond us, but something we can all have, and indeed, should have (2:12–16). This is seen when Paul speaks briefly again of himself (2:17–18) and then of Timothy (2:19–24). He would send Timothy to them in order to find out how they were doing, and when speaking of Timothy, he says of him that he had no man so like-minded who would put their interests above his own.

Epaphroditus would be sent also, their own messenger who had brought Paul their gift. Again, Paul takes the opportunity to say of him that he also put others (this time the Philippian saints themselves) before himself (2:25–30).

Having therefore spoken of the good examples of himself, Timothy, and Epaphroditus, and especially the Lord Jesus, Paul speaks in chapter 3 of the enemy that was at work in the assembly at Philippi—the flesh, the old fallen nature that we still have. He speaks of his own experience as under the law (3:4–6) and what he had learnt through Christ (3:7–9) and his new desire (3:10–14). He then encourages his hearers to adopt the same attitude (3:15–17) before speaking of those who would not learn this lesson and—although genuine believers—would not embrace the truth of the cross of Christ (3:18–19).

As well as seeing how Christ is presented in an epistle, it is also important to see how the death of Christ is presented (e.g., the blood in Hebrews, crucifixion/curse in Galatians). In Philippians the cross is prominent (it is mentioned in 2:8 and in 3:18), speaking of the shame and humiliation of His death (something the flesh hates). Embracing the cross of Christ is essential if we are to be true to our heavenly citizenship (3:20–21).

Only now, having spoken of all these things, could Paul say, “I exhort Euodia, and exhort Syntyche, to be of the same mind in the Lord” (4:2). He has prepared for this exhortation by drawing upon practical examples and speaking of the flesh and how it can be overcome by taking up the cross of Christ in our lives.

What is at stake? Joy. Philippians is the epistle of joy. It is mentioned 16 times in one form or another (“joy,” “rejoice,” etc.). Where the flesh is active and saints are not of the same mind (the Lord’s mind), there will not be the joy that there should be. If all is right, then we will joy in the Lord always (4:4). It might seem a little thing, two saints not being of the same mind, but as Solomon observed, it is the “little foxes” that spoil the vine (a symbol of joy) (Song of Solomon 2:15), and it was important enough for the Holy Spirit to give us a whole epistle on how we should act towards one another.

But Paul did not only exhorted Euodia and Syntyche, he exhorted everybody else in the assembly (4:3 and 1:1). It is the responsibility of everybody in the assembly (especially the elders and deacons, see 1:1) to act in such a way that everybody is helped to be of the same mind in the Lord. It is your responsibility and mine to ensure that, where we are, saints get on with one another. Too many believers have left assemblies because of personal differences with other believers (even one is too many!). This does not mean taking sides with one or the other in a dispute—this only leads to parties being formed as happened in Corinth (1 Corinthians 3:3–4)—but rather it means that we lead by example as the Lord, Paul, Timothy, and Epaphroditus did, and serve one another, living lives in keeping with the cross of Christ so that we can exhort them to do the same.

Finally, how can we be preserved from ever experiencing these things ourselves? We have Paul’s final words, “For the rest, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are noble, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are amiable, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue and if any praise, think on these things. What ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, these things do; and the God of peace shall be with you” (4:8–9). We occupy our minds (another key word in the epistle) with Christ and live out what we see. Then we shall have the mind of the Lord.

In closing, let us remind ourselves of Joseph’s advice to his brothers when he sent them back to Canaan to pick up their father and all the families and belongings to relocate to Egypt where he had been so honored: “And he sent his brethren away, and they departed. And he said to them, Do not quarrel on the way” (Genesis 45:24). Brethren, we are on the way to heaven, on the road which leads to glory, let us not fall out on the way.

Previous Article: Dear Reader
Next Article: Why Did God Permit Sin?

Other Resources