Bible Commentary–Understanding Philippians


If we read Acts Chapter 16, we would know that the church in Philippi was the first church established by Paul in Europe when he went from Asia to Europe in response to God’s call in a dream that he saw a man of Macedonia standing and begging him to come over to Macedonia. (Act 16:9.).

Most scholars supported that this letter to the Philippians was written when Paul was in prison in Rome about A.D. 61 –62.

Although Paul was in captivity, with chains holding him, it is incredible that his words seem to come from a light heart and his soul is free. There is no scolding, but it is filled with an atmosphere of joy.

The Saviour’s name is mentioned often times. Some of the most wonderful things concerning Christ and the life of the Christians are here.  Paul tells us of his joyful triumph over trying circumstances because of his trust in Christ.  That our life may be purified, dangers avoided and progress made, Christ must be our joy, our faith and trust, and our aim in life.  In short, we must try to live a Christ-centre life instead of a self-centre life that is most tempting to any one of us in the secular world.

 2.         CHAPTER 1–Thanksgiving and Prayer

Paul introduced Timothy and himself servants of Christ Jesus. Christ had made him free and then he wanted to serve God as long as he lived. “For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone.  If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord.  So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.” (Romans 14: 7-8)

Although in prison, in his adversity, Paul could still pray for the Philippians with joy for their partnership in proclaiming the gospel. “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ. Filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ–to the glory and praise of Lord.” (Philippians 1:9-11)

 In here, Paul set an example to intercede for others.  So should every true Christian intercede for his/her brothers and sisters, his/her relatives and friends and those who he/she may not know in the community and the common well being of the needy…Do we have a prayer list and pray for them in our private prayers?  Do we talk to the Lord about our brothers and sisters, our relatives, our friends and those unbelievers?  Jesus said, “… Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things (all necessity and others things) will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6: 33)

Paul continued to rejoice in prison for the Roman guards were so interested in Paul’s teaching the gospel that they spread it around. As a result, believers were encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly. . Those who preached out of envy and rivalry or out of selfish ambition did not upset Paul, for in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ was preached. Paul said, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21) “Whatever happens conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.” (Philippians 1:27)

 Let’s consider the following points:

  • Christ is the giver of life. (John 10:10)
  • Christ is life itself. (Galatians 2:20)
  • Christ is the model of my life. (Matthew 5:48)
  • Christ is the aim of my life. (2 Peter 1:16)
  • Christ is the reward of my life. (2 Corinthians 9:15)

3          Imitating Christ’s Humility

 Once connected with Christ, people gradually change in attitude. A person may become a different being following the likeness of Christ. The Holy Spirit dwelling in us, its encouragement, its comfort, its tenderness, its compassion and fellowship should be shared among us (brothers and sisters) in the love of Christ. Thus we all will become one in spirit and purpose. (Philippians 2:1 –2).

Then, we would do nothing with selfish ambition or vain conceit; we would be humble and we would consider others better than ourselves i.e., respect others point of view and accept them what they are–not what we are. Care for their interest. (Philippians 2:3 – 5).

Jesus, by nature, is God. In John 1:14, the Bible says, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

But Jesus made himself nothing.  He was in human likeness, as a servant to serve peoples and obedient to death–died on a cross for us sinners.(Philippians 2:6 – 8)  In John 3: 16, the Bible says, “ For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2: 9 – 11).

Shining as Stars

Philippians had shone like stars, not only in the presence of Paul, but also in his absence even more so, because they worked out their salvation with fear according to God’s purpose (Philippians 2:12 – 13).

How can Christians continue to shine like stars?  How can we be of good influence among our neighbors in our community, among our brothers and sisters in Christ etc?(Philippians 2:14 – 16).

  • Do everything without complaining or arguing.
  • Become blameless and pure children of God.
  • Hold out (or on to) the word of life.

Paul’s self-sacrifice and service for the faith of the Philippians brought him rejoice and he asked them to be glad and rejoice with him. Philippians 2:17 – 18)

Let’s see what Jesus said in Matthew 16: 24 – 27:

“… Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?  Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?  For the Son of Man is going to come in Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done.”

What has Jesus said in here?  Why the loving Jesus who died does for us, wants whoever   following him to deny him or her? What kind of a “cross” He wants us to carry. And what is meant by “follow me”?

It would certainly take a while for us to ponder what Jesus is actually saying to us.

In a spiritual way, we all fall short of God’s glory as we have sinned. How can we substitute “I” in “SIN” by “O” in “SON”? Then, we can change from our self-centre  character to Christ-centrer character.  What kind of a “cross” we may have carried and how could we put it up with all our sinful nature (evils) to be crucified with Jesus?  Then– follow Him. Walk with God. He is the way, truth and life. Without God, we can do nothing—nothing good. We need God to restore our sinful soul. (Psalm 23:2 b). We are obligated to pray every day for His guidance until the day of Christ second coming as prophesied in the Bible…

Here Paul mentioned the names of two persons, Timothy and Epaphroditus, who were genuine servants of Christ and good friends of Paul.

Paul wanted Timothy to go to the Philippians from Rome. See how Paul described Timothy’s character. “I have no one else like him, who takes a genuine interest in your welfare.” (Philippians 2:20-23). Timothy had served with Paul, his spiritual father, in the work of the gospel and had proved himself faithful. Paul was hoping that after sending Timothy to the Philippians, he might be leaving prison in Rome. (Philippians 2:24).

The other person was Epaphroditus who was sent by the Philippians to serve Paul when he was in prison in Rome. (4: 18). See how Paul described him so devoted in serving Christ and helping him. Paul called Epaphroditus his brother, fellow worker and fellow soldier. Indeed, it was a spiritual war they had been fighting together. Paul wanted to send back Epaphroditus to the Philippians as he longed to see them for he was ill and almost died for the work of Christ risking his life to help Paul. But God had mercy on him. By sending him back, Paul would have less anxiety and could be spared sorrow upon sorrow. (Philippians 2:25 –30) Do we nowadays also find servants in Christ so devoted and self-less as Timothy and Epaphroditus? Let’s reflect on ourselves if, in our daily life, we are actually setting a good example for others in our faith and serving Christ Jesus.

 4.  No Confidence in the Flesh                    

Paul reminded the Philippians once again why they should rejoice in the Lord Jesus Christ. This is in fact also a good reminder for you and me. To be united with God (the Holy Spirit) is the best protection for us against any temptation.

Among the Philippians there were people who spread false teaching they relied on their circumcision for their salvation, but this is not the Truth. Paul said, “… If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh. I have more.”(Philippians 3:4)

 Let’s look at Paul’s resume (Philippians 3: 5-6):

  • Circumcised on the eighth day.
  • Of the people of Israel.
  • Of the tribe of Benjamin (one of the twelve tribes)
  • A Hebrew of Hebrews
  • A Pharisee by law.
  • Persecuting the church.
  • As for legalistic righteous, faultless.

But Paul after his conversion found all the above profit lost for the sake of Christ. Everything he had or did in the past was considered a loss comparing to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus. Paul did not become righteous by the law, nor from his past credentials, but righteous by faith in Christ–the righteousness that comes from God. (Philippians 3: 7-9).

Paul wanted to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and sharing in his sufferings so that becoming like Him in His death, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.(Philippians 3: 10).

Pressing on Toward the Goal

“Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead” (Philippians 3:13) is the correct attitude of a Christian. We are not yet perfect.  We must press on as if in a race toward the goal (Jesus Christ) to win the prize (complete salvation) in heaven.  Therefore, we should follow the example of Paul and live not as enemies of the cross of Christ. (Philippians 3:17). Our citizenship is in heaven; we eagerly await our Savior Jesus Christ to come from heaven.  He will bring everything under His control and will transform our lovely bodies so that they will be like the glorious body. (Philippians 3:20 –21).

 How can we stand firm in the Lord and be joyful?

Paul exhorted Euodia and Syntyche and asked the loyal Philippians (yokefellows) help these two women to work together harmoniously and in unity for the cause of the gospel. Along with Clemnet and other fellow workers (whose name unknown), their names are in the book of life. (Exodus 32:32; Psalm 69:28)

From Paul’s description here, we can conclude that they were yokefellows in the cause of the gospel. They should stand firm in the Lord, i.e., to rejoice in the Lord always.  Rejoice!  How? Paul asked us (Philippians 4:1 – 5). :

  • To let our gentleness be evident to all.
  • Not be anxious about anything.
  • Be prayerful for everything.
  • Be thankful for everything.
  • To petition and present requests to God.

Be faithful and thankful in our prayers.  Do our best in the guidance of the Holy Spirit and wait for our God’s direction and grace.  If we do this, then the peace of God will stand guard over our heart and mind in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:5 – 7).

 Therefore, guard our thoughts!  What should we think about and what should we remember?

We should think and remember such things hereunder and then the God of peace will be with us. (Philippians 4:8 – 9).

  • Whatever is true?
  • Whatever is noble?
  • Whatever is right?
  • Whatever is pure?
  • Whatever is lovely?
  • Whatever is admirable?
  • Whatever is excellent?
  • Whatever is praiseworthy?

Thanks for their Gifts

 Paul rejoiced in the Lord that the church of Philippi sent him gifts not because he was in need; but he had the love of the Philippians who had been concerned about his need.  Paul had learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  Paul could rejoice in any and every situation, good or adversarial, because he had learned how to trust God and in Him who gave Paul strength. (Philippians 4:10)

What lessons from the Philippians can we learn about the concern of our needy brothers and sisters in Christ?

What lessons from Paul can we learn in facing any situations and be content with what we are as the will of God?

Further, Paul mentioned that the Philippians from the early days had been sharing his troubles and sending him gifts when he came from Macedonia and again and again in Thessalonica. Paul rejoiced in receiving from the Philippians not because he was in need, but he was more concerned about their account being credited in heaven.  Their gifts to Paul were a fragrant offering, one acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. (Philippians 4:14 –19).

Final Greetings

 Paul sent his final greetings with a prayer for the grace of the Lord, Jesus Christ be with the spirit of the Philippians. (Philippians 4:21-23).



  1. The church of Philippi – the first church established in Europe about AD 61 – 62 in response to God’s call when Paul came over to Macedonia from Asia.
  2. Although in captivity, Paul survived with a light heart and free soul. He tells us of his joyful triumph over trying circumstances in his trust in Christ.
  3. Christ must be our joy, faith and trust and our aim in life – a Christ- center life.

Thanksgiving and Prayer

  1. Paul introduced Timothy and himself servants of Christ Jesus.  So whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.
  2. Although in prison, Paul could pray for others with joy.  A good example of intercession for us.
  3. Paul was not upset by his rivalry who might preach out of selfish ambition as long as Christ was preached.

Imitating Christ’s Humility

  1. Once connected with Christ, a person will generally change into a different being following the likeness of Christ.  All believers will become one in Spirit and prayers.
  2. Humble, respect and accept others as what they are – not what we are.
  3. Jesus, the Word became flesh, made Himself nothing and died for us sinners.
  4. Whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but live eternal life.
  5. How can Christians continue to shine like stars?  (No complaint and arguing, blameless and pure, hold on to the Word of life.)
  6. Paul wanted Timothy to go to the Philippians from Rome.
  7. Epaphroditus was sent by the Philippians to serve Paul.  He was so devoted in serving Christ that Paul called him his brother, fellow worker and fellow solder.

No Confidence in the Flesh

  1. To be united with Christ (the Holy Spirit) is the best protection for us against any temptation.
  2. Paul considered all he had and did in confidence in the flesh before his conversion was lost profit for Christ, comparing to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus.
  3. Paul wanted to become the Jesus in His death to attain to resurrection from the dead.

Pressing on Toward the Goal

  1. We are not yet perfect. We must press on as of in a race toward Jesus Christ to have complete salvation in heaven.
  2. To work together harmoniously and in unity for the cause of the Gospel. (Yokefellows.)
  3. How to rejoice?
  • Gentleness, not be anxious, prayerful, petition.
  • Do our best. Wait for guidance from the Holy Spirit.
  • The peace of God will stand guard over our heart and mind in Christ Jesus.
  1. What to think and remember? Whatever is true? (Noble? Right? Pure? Lovely?       Admirable? Excellent? Praiseworthy?)
  2. Paul rejoiced and thanked for the gifts from the Philippians because they showed his concern and love.  Paul had learned being content in any and every situation, because he had learned how to trust God and in Him who gave Paul strength.
  3. Gifts to saints were a fragrant offering, one acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God.
  4. Paul’s final greetings.



  1. How do we know the church of Philippi was the first church Paul had established in Europe and what year?
  2. Paul was in his captivity in Rome.  He must be suffering. How could Paul manage to rejoice in such circumstances?
  3. If you were in similar trying circumstances like Paul, how would you react?
  4. Through Paul’s testimony of how he behaved in prison what lesson we may learn in the faith of Jesus Christ when we had to face life adversity?

 2.         Chapter  1

  1. How did Paul set an example of intercession? Why he did that?
  2. What make you think that Christ is the giver of life or life itself”

3.         Chapter 2         

  1. How can Christians become one in spirit and purpose?
  2. How do we know for sure that Jesus Christ died for sinners in this world?
  3. Paul said that the Philippians shone like stars. How can we be of good influence among our neighbors or in our community?
  4. What kind of a “cross” Jesus Christ wants us to carry?
  5. What is meant by Jesus when He said, “Follow me”?
  6. What do you know about Timothy and Epaphroditus from Paul’s description?

4.         Chapter  3 

  1. What make you think relying on the flesh or self-cultivation, but not relying on the Lord, Jesus Christ, will be fruitless for our salvation?
  2. Forgetting what ids behind and striving toward what is ahead (v. 13.). Explain.
  3. With reference to Paul’s advice to the Philippians, how can Christians stand firm in the Lord and be joyful?
  4. In order to have the peace of God over our heart and mind, what are some of the things we should think and remember?
  5. How would you learn to be concerned about your needy brothers and sisters in Christ?
  6. Will you be able to face any situations and be content with what you are?


About Francis Loo

I'm a retired landed property professional since 2005 with 57 years working experience, 41 of which related to landed property in Valuation, Property Management, Lease Negotiation etc., in Hong Kong, Toronto and Vancouver. A Guide to Effective Property Management in Hong Kong published in 1991 and translated in 1998 for Chun San University external training courses. Have been contributing biblical articles to Truth Monthly after retirement.
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