Throughout the whole of Scripture, few books are as quotable and, indeed, oft-quoted as the Book of Philippians. In Christian circles, there is no shortage of wall art, jewelry, and journals emblazoned with the famous verse, Philippians 4:13. It is not difficult to understand why. The Book of Philippians is one of profound encouragement—a rumination on perseverance. As we navigate the ups and downs of Christian's life, the wisdom and support of this Biblical book can inspire us.
So what is the Book of Philippians all about? Beyond the verses we see out of context, what is this section of Scripture seeking to express? We’ll explore these questions as we consider a summary of the text and the impact and implications it has for us today.
Who Wrote the Book of Philippians?
Before digging into the content of Philippians, it will be helpful to first consider the book’s context. The Book of Philippians was written as a letter to the Philippian church at Philippi by the apostle Paul. The community of believers in Philippi was near and dear to Paul’s heart. He had first visited the city during his second missionary journey and founded the church there. In fact, the church at Philippi was the first church founded by Paul in Europe.
Written several years later, the letter to the Philippians was written while Paul was imprisoned in Rome. Philippians is one of four letters written by Paul during this time and together these letters are known as the Prison Epistles (the other three letters being Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon).
Unlike some of Paul’s other letters, such as Galatians and Colossians, Paul wrote Philippians not in response to a crisis or concern. It is not an attempt to course-correct misguided or harmful theology, but rather a powerful message of affection and encouragement to a beloved community. Paul’s love for the Philippian church is clear throughout the letter as he urges them to adopt his same joy and to live out their faith in unity. In the midst of a difficult situation (his imprisonment), Paul also spends much of the letter reflecting on the notion of perseverance and fortitude and the beauty of humility.
Overview of the Letter
Written in the face of much suffering, Philippians explores what it means to walk through the trials and pains of life in a Christlike way. To explore this idea, Paul spends takes care to expound on what we can learn from the example of Jesus, who valued humility and obedience to God over personal glory and comfort; Paul encourages his readers to strive to live out of that example. Indeed the person of Jesus Christ is at the very heart of the Book of Philippians. The sacrifices of Jesus are not only something to be admired; they remind us that we are all unified in our need for a savior and in our identity as the Body of Christ.
It cannot be surprising therefore that one of the most significant passages in the letter to the Philippians is 2:5–11, Paul’s description of Jesus. Sometimes called the Christ-hymn, it reads:
“5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; 7 rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! 9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
Paul exhorts Jesus, emphasizing the humility, servitude, and obedience shown by Christ. Through Christ’s example, Paul illustrates the value of putting our faith and indeed our lives fully in God’s hands.
Reinforcing this idea are key verses such as Philippians 3:7-9, 3:13-14, and 4:13.
"7 But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith."
“3 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”
“13 I can do all this through Christ who gives me strength.”
How Do I Apply This?
These words of encouragement have profound implications for us today. In the face of a chaotic and divisive world, it can be easy to feel beaten down. In our darkest moments, as we look outside ourselves to escape our suffering, Paul invites us to remember that true joy comes from God. In the midst of difficulty, we can look to the perseverance of Christ and feel strengthened. While society talks of “us vs. them”, we can lean into unity and take comfort in the knowledge that we are not alone.
It is with good reason that the Book of Philippians is such a studied and well-loved part of Scripture. Loving, encouraging, and hopefully, Philippians calls us to lean into each other and, more importantly, into God. In the words of Philippians 4:4-7:
“4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
To learn more about Philippians and the New Testament letters, explore the Letters Bible Bundle from Alabaster.