03 Philippians: Introduction


Welcome to an exciting, pragmatic, and inductive study in the book of Philippians. This course is designed for each student to read through the commentary on each section, then answer the questions after each section. It was prepared for couples as well as individual students. You will note that the Discussion Questions are provided in two formats. The first set of questions is for couples to work through, and the second set is provided for those who choose to take this course on an individual basis.


To better comprehend the circumstances surrounding the events in the life of Paul, a brief overview of the city of Philippi will be helpful. It was first settled by the Phoenicians and became a city of Macedonia. Today, this territory is in southeast Yugoslavia. Philippi was northeast of Amphipolis, east of Thessalonica and less than a hundred miles north of Jerusalem. It was only nine miles from Neapolis and overlooked its bay. Attractions to this area included gold mines in the mountains to the north, its fertile lands, and springs that are the source of the Jordan River.

After Macedonia became subject to Rome, a Roman colony was established there which grew to become one of the most flourishing cities of the Roman empire (Acts 16:12). To understand Paul’s interest in Philippi, we must realize it was a very strategic city, serving as the primary military route between Europe and Asia.

In 358 BC, in an effort to control the neighboring gold mines, Philip II of Macedonia, the father of Alexander the Great, captured the city. He renamed it in his own honor, hence the name “Philippi.” After 146 BC, it became a leading Roman city in the province of Macedonia and idolatry was rampant. The idolatrous practices typical of the Roman Empire can be seen in Paul’s adamant statement regarding Athens (Acts 17:16).

Archeological evidence points to the worship of numerous gods in Philippi. Herod erected a monumental temple there in 20 BC. There are traces of an edifice dedicated to the Roman god Silvanus, the sacred guardian of the Roman Empire. Philippi even had its own museum of mythology. However, as with all idolatrous cities of that era, Philippi’s days were numbered. By 600 AD, little remained of this once proud metropolis. Today, the ruins of the city are near the town of Kavalla, Greece.

Through the evangelization of Philippi, we see the Gospel moving from the East to the West, for this city was the doorway between two continents. This effort begins when Paul has a vision concerning a man from Macedonia (Acts 16:9). The Holy Spirit thus directs he and his companions away from Asia and into Macedonia. He then travels to that area around 52 AD and the first city he visits is Philippi. The apostle sees Philippi as a gateway for evangelism. When we read the story in Acts 16, we find Paul’s first two converts there are women. A Roman jailer is also born-again (Acts 16:31). These Gentile conversions validate Paul’s statement that in Jesus “there is neither Jew, nor Greek, bond nor free, male nor female, but all are one in Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). 

Acts 16 tells us how Paul initially gets into trouble at Philippi. He ministers to a slave girl and her owners bring Paul and Silas before the town rulers, accusing them of disturbing the peace (v. 20). Paul is beaten and thrown in jail, with his feet locked in the stocks. At midnight, Paul and Silas sing and the prison doors swing open to free them (v. 25-26). However, the ill treatment he suffers in Philippi at the hands of sinners does not deter him from loving the saints there.

When Paul writes to the Philippian church, a decade has passed since his experiences in the Philippian jail. This congregation learn Paul is incarcerated in Rome and in need of his help (Phil. 1:12-14). They have assisted him on previous occasions and again respond. They send Epaphroditus to Rome to visit Paul somewhere around 62 A.D. 

The book of Philippians is Paul’s thank you letter to them for their help (4:10). He longs for their fellowship (4:1) and expresses his deep love for them (1:5). It is a simple letter to personal friends. Paul’s heart is filled with gratitude as he encourages them to rejoice in their current situation (4:4).

Philippians is perhaps the most spontaneous of all of Paul’s letters. His strong personal attachment to them is obvious, using over one hundred first-person pronouns as he pours out his heart to them. Paul is blessed by the dynamic spiritual growth of the Philippians over the past decade. Consequently, a deep love for them has developed. The Philippian church has its share of sufferings, is in danger of division, and is threatened by false teachers. They need Paul and he needs them. History records that this church flourished in the first century.

Paul’s fundamental reasons for writing to the Philippians include:

1. To explain why he is sending Epaphroditus back to them: he has medical needs.
2. To thank them for the money they sent, recognizing this is not the first time they have done so.  This church sends him funds when he is in Thessalonica (Phil. 4:15-16), and continues to send them while he is in Corinth (I Cor.11:9).
3. To reassure them his current incarceration situation is not life threatening
4 To encourage and advise this group of Believers.

Many of Paul’s converts throughout the years have proven fickle but not his beloved Philippians. Some prisoners write to others in order to gain sympathy. Paul does not. Since the things that happen to Paul result in the furtherance of the Gospel, he determines to rejoice despite prison and pain (1:12). Even John the Baptist seems to become anxious while he is in jail (Luke 7:19). But Paul’s faith never wavers, his hope never wanes and his joy does not diminish.

Because of his continuing and affectionate relationship with this church family, Paul feels no need for a formal introduction to his letter. He loves them and visits them at least twice during his first missionary journey. Unlike the churches in Galatia, there seem to be no doctrinal issues to discuss. This epistle differs from II Corinthians in that there are no moral issues addressed. He writes to Philippi to express joy for their spiritual progress. The pervasive spirit of optimism in this letter overshadows any misunderstandings within this church. He thinks about them and prays for them with no trace of superficial sentimentality. Paul thanks God for their consistent development and unity since their initial conversion.He expresses his joy regarding their inclusiveness by his use of the term “all” which appears 26 times in this brief letter. His memories of them culminate in joyous praise and comfort him during his incarceration. 

The Philippian Believers are more than friends, for they have labored with Paul in previous evangelistic efforts. His phrase “the fellowship of the Gospel” (1:5) is a comprehensive term, indicating he loves them because they have their priorities straight. He and the congregation at Philippi enjoy wonderful fellowship as they spread the message of Christ. He accentuates their positive attributes and admires their fidelity. He is convinced God wants to complete their maturation process.He is confident the Lord will finish what He starts – and that the Philippians will allow Him to do so.

Paul often expresses his yearning to reach Rome with the Gospel message (Rom. 1, Acts 19, 23). However, he arrives in Rome in chains as an enemy of the state. Although he spends a total of five years in various prisons, he never complains or questions God’s motives (2:14). Paul cannot change his location so he changes his viewpoint. He rejoices even in a dungeon. Paul is one jailbird who knows how to sing (Acts 16:25).

Despite his current incarceration, there is a pervasive tone of joy throughout the book. The recurring words “joy” and “rejoice” are used 16 times in this letter – far more frequently than in any other pauline epistle.This brief correspondence conveys the view all Believers must adapt regarding suffering for Christ. Although we may labor for Christ under trying conditions, the book of Philippians frees us from distractions and brings us home to the heart of the Gospel. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we can rejoice in all circumstances. The keynote of the book is the spirit that Paul continuously promotes: “Rejoice in the Lord always….and again I say, Rejoice!” (4:4). 




1. In Paul’s day, Philippi has become a colony of:
A. Canaan
B. Rome
C. Phoenicia
D. Asia
E. Persia

2. Who is with Paul when he is in the Philippian jail? (Acts 16:19-23)
A. Festus
B. Barnabas
C. Timothy
D. Silas
E. Titus

3. From Philippi flow the springs that are the source of what famous river?
A. Euphrates
B. Jordan
C. Nile
D. Tigris
E. None of the above

4. Which of the following women is Paul’s first convert in Philippi?
A. Lydia
B. Mary
C. Sapphira
D. Ruth
E. Veronica

5. Read Ephesians 3:1, II Timothy 1:8 and Philemon 1:1. Paul considers himself to be a prisoner of whom?
A. The Pharisees
B. The Hebrews
C. The Romans
D. Jesus Christ
E. None of the above




1. In this introductory study to the book of Philippians, what impresses you the most?

2. In Acts 16, Paul ministers to women from two distinct backgrounds. What does his attitude of impartiality teach us about gender and ethnic inclusiveness?

3. Philippi is a city of blended nationalities, including Greek, Roman and Hebrew. Most couples in America are of mixed ethnicities. Each spouse should list the nationalities he/she represents. Discuss any ways in which your diverse ethnic backgrounds might affect your marriage.

4. Paul’s letter to the Philippians is essentially a love letter. Take a moment right now to jot down your deepest feelings of love toward your spouse.




1. In this introductory study to the book of Philippians, what impresses you the most?

2. In Acts 16, Paul ministers to women from two distinct backgrounds. What does his attitude of impartiality teach us about gender and ethnic inclusiveness?

3. Philippi is a city of blended nationalities, including Greek, Roman and Hebrew. Most people in America are of mixed ethnicities. Make a list of the nationalities you represent. Write a paragraph concerning how your ethnic background might open doors of opportunity to win souls for Christ.

4. Paul’s letter to the Philippians is essentially a love letter. Take a moment right now to write a brief love letter to God.


Maxim of the Moment

Love’s demise is indifference.