Chuck preaching

Listen to Chuck Swindoll’s overview of Philippians in his audio message from the Classic series God’s Masterwork.

Who wrote the book?

Paul ministered at Philippi during his second missionary journey, spending about three months in the city. The ministry at Philippi marked Paul’s entrance into Macedonia, which came about as a result of a vision he had in the city of Troas, just across the northeastern corner of the Aegean Sea from the port city of Neapolis and its close neighbor Philippi (Acts 16:8–12).

During this first stay in Philippi—he later briefly visited the city on his third missionary journey (20:6)—Paul brought to faith in Christ people who would form the core of the burgeoning congregation in the city. Among them were Lydia, a businesswoman who opened her home to Paul and his coworkers (16:13–15), and the Philippian jailer, who was converted under Paul’s ministry after an earthquake miraculously broke open the prison (16:22–34).

Philippians Bible chart
View Chuck Swindoll's chart of Philippians, which divides the book into major sections and highlights themes and key verses.

Where are we?

Of the four Prison Epistles, Paul likely wrote Philippians last, near the end of his Roman imprisonment in AD 61 or 62. Paul sent the other three Prison Epistles—Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon—by the hand of Tychicus, as their destinations were near one another. However, the letter to the Philippians was to be delivered by Epaphroditus, who had come to Paul in Rome with financial help from the church at Philippi (Philippians 2:25; 4:18). But during his time in Rome, Epaphroditus took ill, which delayed his return home and, therefore, the delivery of the letter (2:26–27).

Why is Philippians so important?

The apostle Paul did not write Philippians in response to a crisis, as he did with Galatians and Colossians. Instead, he wrote to express his appreciation and affection for the Philippian believers. More than any other church, the believers in Philippi offered Paul material support for his ministry (2 Corinthians 8:11; Philippians 4:15–18). Paul’s affection for these people is clear throughout the letter as he encouraged them to live out their faith in joy and unity (1:3–5, 25–26; 4:1).

What's the big idea?

Philippians brims over with often quoted passages: “He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6), “To live is Christ and to die is gain” (1:21), and “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (4:13) are just a few. But the portrait of Jesus Christ as a humble servant serves as the core of Paul’s teaching in this letter (2:5–11).

Paul’s joy at the mere thought of the Philippian church is undeniable in the letter, and it’s that same joy that he wanted the recipients to possess as well. To lead the Philippians to this truth, Paul took them directly to Jesus, teaching them that a community of believers living in harmony with one another comes only through mutual humility modeled after the Savior. Paul wrote that he poured out his life as an offering for the sake of Christ, leading Paul to find great joy and contentment in Christ’s service. His letter to the Philippians showed them that by centering their lives on Christ, they, too, might live in true joy.

How do I apply this?

Though we all have much to be thankful for, the pace and the pressure of life often squeeze the joy from us. Our shoulders slumped and our heads bowed, we find some days—or months—very difficult to get through. Desperate, we often search for joy in all kinds of ways—acquiring possessions, visiting places, or seeing people. But none of these can provide lasting joy. Where do you find joy in the midst of a trying circumstance?

Paul knew, as did the Philippians, that true joy comes only through humble faith in the saving work of Jesus Christ, joining ourselves in harmony with His followers, and serving others in the name of Christ. This was the life experienced by the Philippian believers, and it is a life available to us today.

Allow the joy you find in Christ to keep you from useless quarrels and divisions and to instead guide you into harmonious relationships with God’s people.

Related Articles

30 Days to Handling Your Fears

This article is designed to help you better understand how to handle fear. For the next 30 days read the questions and allow them to spark deeper personal reflection and life change. Fear is an instinctive and even healthy response to keep you safe, sometimes prompting you to necessary action. In that sense fear is […]

Read More

A Gift Too Wonderful for Words

Long ago in a quiet, crude place where animals sleep, Mary gave birth and felt the soft, human skin of her firstborn. The humanity of this scene appropriately pulls us in for a closer look. We can identify with Joseph’s confusion, with Mary’s wonder, and with the shepherds’ amazement about the Son of God’s quiet […]

Read More

A Joyful Heart . . . It’s Good Medicine!

A few things in life are absolutely tragic. Some are mysteriously strange. Many, however, are just plain funny. There isn’t a day that passes in which I fail to see, hear, or read something that makes me smile. And because laughter is such effective therapy, I’m grateful that God dispenses this divine medication so frequently. […]

Read More

A Reason to Smile

Joy—it makes people wonder at your secret. Yet joy is no secret to the trusting Christian. When we choose to grow closer to God, resting in His character and provision, joy spills over into our lives so that others can’t help but notice. Do you want to be a person of joy? Silly question, isn’t […]

Read More

A Tradition You Can Trust

Near the end of his life and ministry, with martyrdom looming before him, the apostle Paul dictated a letter for one of his closest ministry assistants—a young man named Timothy. In that letter, Paul encouraged Timothy to hold on to what he had been taught, to guard believers from harm, to stand firm against temptations, […]

Read More

Act Medium

The children worked long and hard on their little cardboard shack. It was to be a special spot—a clubhouse, where they could meet together, play, and have fun. Because a clubhouse has to have rules, they came up with three: Nobody act big. Nobody act small. Everybody act medium. Not bad theology! In different words, […]

Read More

Analyzing Unselfishness

Read Philippians 2:1-4. To be “humble in heart” as Christ stated He was, is to be submissive to the core. It involves being more interested in serving the needs of others than in having one’s own needs met. Someone who is truly unselfish is generous with his or her time and possessions, energy and money. […]

Read More

Burning Ourselves: The Tongue’s Hidden Hurt

“Remember,” Smokey the Bear warned millions of television viewers, “only YOU can prevent forest fires.” But what if Smokey had faced the inferno we carry around with us daily—in our mouths? Maybe his warning wouldn’t have centered on misused matches but on combustible conversations. In fact, his public-service announcement may have sounded a bit like […]

Read More