The writer is the apostle Paul, Ch.1:1. It is one of the prison epistles, and it is commonly believed that it was written about 64 A.D. The occasion for writing was to thank the Philippian church for their care of Paul while he was confined as a prisoner, just as they had been careful of him when he was in Thessalonica, Ch.4:10,16.
The theme of the epistle is Christian experience. They were evidently doctrinally sound, for the apostle makes no effort to correct any errors. As Paul was the prisoner of Nero the note of victory in his letter is the more remarkable. It teaches us that Christian experience is not something which is going on around the believer, but something which is going on within him.
The division of the book are four according to the chapters:
1. Chapter 1. Rejoicing in suffering.
2. Chapter 2. Rejoicing in lowly service.
3. Chapter 3. Rejoicing while going on unto perfection.
4. Chapter 4. Rejoicing in anxiety.
REJOICING IN SUFFERING.
Joy seems to be finely woven into this epistle in a remarkable way. Paul rejoiced in his prayer for the Philippians for he had a quiet confidence in God that having begun a good work in them He would fully perform it, Ch.1:4-6. The apostle longed after them and trusted that they would be sincere and without offence until the day of Christ, vs. 8,10.
To offset any disturbance of their minds which might have resulted from his own sufferings, Paul told them that the things which had happened had helped rather than hindered the work of the Gospel. While some opposed him he knew that others had been made bold to testify of their faith, because he had become a well-known character in his fearless witnessing for Christ. He rejoiced that even those who did oppose him at least made mention of Christ, and were, therefore, unwittingly spreading the knowledge of His name, vs.12, and 14-15. All the apostle wanted was that by living, regardless of his circumstances, it would be possible to represent Christ, and if he should die it would be a very great gain to him. To have died in prison and have been suddenly transferred to heaven would have been very acceptable, but he felt he would still be spared for their sakes, vs.21, and 23-24. Every believer has been granted a share in the suffering of Christ, v.29. Having learned this, let us commit ourselves to God and trust Him to help us witness a good confession: even as He saw the same willingness in His only begotten Son.
REJOICING IN LOWLY SERVICE.
Jesus said of Himself, “For I am meek and lowly in heart.” Paul was possessed of the same Spirit which extolled such meekness, and told the Philippians they should “in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves,” Ch.2:3. He then showed how Christ had humbled Himself by making Himself of no reputation, becoming the Servant of God, and was made in the likeness of men. Then as Man, He humbled Himself still more and became obedient unto death, and submitted to the worst form of death of that day, vs.5-8. For this God highly exalted Him, and now He has the greatest name in the universe, vs.9-10. We are exhorted to follow Christ’s example. He did not grasp at His equality with God but let it all go and trusted God to undertake for Him. If we do this God can then work in us to will and to do of His good pleasure, vs.12-13.
In v.17, Paul regards himself as the drink offering upon the sacrifice of their faith. In other words, those who serve God must count upon suffering in the form of persecution from man and from Satan, but in this they have fulfilled in themselves the meaning of the drink offering, which typified the sufferings of Christ and His people.
REJOICING WHILE GOING ON UNTO PERFECTION.
The apostle Paul was essentially a victorious Christian. While he reckoned that he was far from having reached perfection, and urged upon others the need of pressing on to that end, yet so conscious was he of his acceptance through Christ that he could exhort God’s people to rejoice in the Lord, Ch.3:1. He saw the danger of Satan stealing their joy, like some homeless prowling dog would steal someone’s food.
Evil workers, too, were plentiful, but the apostle saw no reason why their unkindness should quench divine joy. And the concision with their miserable pretense at religion were also not to be allowed to hinder one from rejoicing in Christ Jesus, vs.2-3.
A believer must learn to discount his own righteousness no matter how great a superstructure it has become, and seek only to abide in Christ which gives one a firsthand knowledge of His resurrection power. This alone produces diving righteousness within us as we suffer also with Christ, and become fully identified in His death, vs.9-10. It is the thing which will fit us for participation in the first resurrection, vs.11-14. Those who live otherwise should be observed and their example rejected, that fellowship with Christ may be unbroken as we look for His coming again for His church, vs.17-21.
REJOICING IN ANXIETY.
Again we have the joy note sounded out by Paul, Ch.4:4. This time he contemplates the cares of life, but does not regard them as an excuse to cease praising. The avenue of prayer is always open, and peace of mind is given to those who face real need but nevertheless draw near to God with faith and praise, vs.5-7. The Lord sends varying experiences to His children until we learn to be content in whatsoever state we are. Whether we are abased or abound, are full or at time are allowed to be hungry, we may rejoice that Christ is with us to strengthen us, vs.11-13. An unsaved person is truly alone in trouble, but happy the Christian who finds an all-sufficiency in Christ. In closing Paul gives the beautiful promise, v.19: “But my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.”