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The Blue Letter Bible

Dr. J. Vernon McGee :: Notes for Philippians

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“The Earthly Walk of a Heavenly People”

WRITER: Paul (Philippians 1:1)

DATE: A.D. 62; Written at the same time as Ephesians, it is one of the prison epistles.

CITY OF PHILIPPI: Philippi was a Roman colony. Although it was a miniature of Rome and imitated and aped Rome in every way, it was nonetheless a city which had a higher cultural level than other cities visited by Paul.


1. It was less Jewish and more Gentile than were all others (the names of individuals mentioned are Greek and Roman). This was the first church established in Europe (Acts 16:6-40), which gives special meaning to Gentiles.

2. Women occupied a prominent place in this church. Paul attended, first of all, not the synagogue, but a prayer meeting of women (Acts 16:12-15). A woman named Lydia was the first convert in Europe. Two women were prominent in the church (Philippians 4:2), and there were others who labored in the church (Philippians 4:3).

3. It was generous in its gifts to the Lord’s work (Philippians 4:10-16). Paul cited them as examples to others in giving (2 Corinthians 8:1-5).

OCCASION FOR EPISTLE: There were two specific circumstances that occasioned the writing of this epistle:

1. The church at Philippi had been generous in support of Paul, and he wrote this letter to thank them. When he was in prison in Rome, they sent help by the hands of Epaphroditus. Epaphroditus became ill in Rome, and when he recovered, Paul wrote this letter and sent it by the messenger who had brought him help.

2. A deeper reason was evidently the division that was arising because of the misunderstanding between two of the women (Philippians 4:2). One of the phrases that Paul used again and again is “you all,” speaking to and of all the believers in the church.

KEY: The epistle is practical; its key thought is joy. It has been labeled “The Secret of Joy.” Some form of the word occurs 19 times. It answers the question, “How may I have joy in my heart?” The man who wrote, “Rejoice in the Lord always; and again I say, Rejoice” (Philippians 4:4), was in the Mamertine prison in Rome. Joy does not depend upon circumstances.

REMARKS: After Paul and Barnabas had completed their first missionary journey, they determined to visit again the Galatian churches to see their progress. A sharp division arose over the feasibility of taking John Mark along again.
The result was that Paul took Silas and departed for the Galatian country. After visiting the churches, Paul was evidently planning to extend the circumference of his missionary activity by taking the gospel to Asia (the province of Asia, of which Ephesus was the leading city). This was a very prominent, populous, and prosperous region at that time. The Spirit of God put up a roadblock, however, and they “were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia” (Acts 16:6). Then Paul attempted to go north into Bithynia, along the coast of the Black Sea, where there was a very large population. Again the Spirit put up a roadblock — “but the Spirit allowed them not” (Acts 16:7). They had come from the east, they could go neither south nor north, so there was only one way to go — west. It was not Horace Greeley of the New York Tribune who first said, “Go west, young man, go west,” it was the Spirit of God speaking to Paul.
Paul proceeded then to Troas where he waited for orders. He was given the vision of a man of Macedonia beseeching him to come over to Europe. The party of Paul crossed over to Samothracia, went on to Neapolis, and to Philippi. Luke joined the party at this juncture (Acts 16:10). Silas and Timothy were already with Paul.
When Paul arrived in Philippi, he discovered that the man of Macedonia was actually a woman by the name of Lydia, holding a prayer meeting by the riverside (Acts 16:13-15). Paul got rough treatment in the city because he cast the demon out of a girl who, by the spirit of divination, was making money for her owners. Paul and Silas were imprisoned. When they sang praises to God at midnight, the prison was shaken, and this led to the conversion of the jailer (read Acts 16). He and his family were some of the converts in this church who were especially drawn to the apostle Paul in the bonds of Christian love.
Paul visited Philippi at least one other time, possibly more. The church in Philippi kept in close touch with the apostle (Philippians 4:15) but apparently lost track of him when he was arrested in Jerusalem, and for two years there was no communication. They finally heard he was in prison in Rome and immediately dispatched their pastor, Epaphroditus, to Rome with words of sympathy, a gift, and many expressions of love.
The Epistle to the Philippians is the answer of Paul to their communication and the coming of Epaphroditus. It is his thank-you letter.

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