Study Guide

The Philippians in Galatians, Philippians, and Philemon

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The Philippians

Two thousand years ago, Philippi was a "leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony" (Acts 16:12). Which is just another way of saying it was a totally important place in Greece. Let's delve into more detail about the folks who lived there.

When in Philippi

Around 50 CE, Paul made his first trip to the city, along with his co-disciples Timothy and Silas, and managed to start a church. According to Acts of the Apostles, Paul started in Philippi by converting a wealthy woman named Lydia, who invited Paul and friends to stay in her house while they were in town. Things went downhill from there when Paul drove a demon out of a slave girl and, in the process, made her owners very angry:

They seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the authorities. When they had brought them before the magistrates, they said, "These men are disturbing our city; they are Jews and are advocating customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to adopt or observe." The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates had them stripped of their clothing and ordered them to be beaten with rods. After they had given them a severe flogging, they threw them into prison and ordered the jailer to keep them securely. Following these instructions, he put them in the innermost cell and fastened their feet in the stocks. (Acts 16:20-24)

Luckily for Paul, a huge earthquake opened the doors to the prison. Not only was he free to go; he also managed to convert his jailer in the process. Later, the magistrates were even forced to publicly apologize to Paul for treating him so badly (Acts 16:11-40).

Yup. This guy is good.

Smooth Sailing

Scholars believe Paul's letter to the Philippians could have been written as early as the mid-50s CE (while Paul was doing time in Ephesus), though it could have also been sent in the early 60s CE while Paul was under house arrest in Rome. No one really knows (source, 1179-80). In either case, it's been about 5 to 10 years since Paul first set foot in Philippi. So how are things going at this church?

Pretty darn sweet.

In fact, unlike his friends in Galatia, Paul's got nothing but nice things to say about these guys:

I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God's grace with me, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:3-8)

Get a room.

But this flattery is just the tip of the iceberg for Paul. See, he's really tight with the Philippians. Why?

• They actually listen to him: "You have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence" (Philippians 1:12).
• They make the bad times better: "It is by your holding fast to the word of life that I can boast on the day of Christ that I did not run in vain or labor in vain" (Philippians 1:16).
• They care, for crying out loud: "In the early days of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you alone" (Philippians 4:15).

The Philippians have even sent a care package for him in prison. They are just always doing nice things:

I rejoice in the Lord greatly that now at last you have revived your concern for me […] I have been paid in full and have more than enough; I am fully satisfied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. And my God will fully satisfy every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:10, 18-19)

So…Paul really likes them. Like a lot. For real.

A Little Suffering Never Hurt Anyone

The church at Philippi might be Paul's favorite (shhh! Don't tell those guys in Thessalonica!), but that doesn't mean there are no issues. Just like in Galatia, the Philippians are having some trouble from the locals:

[God] has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well—since you are having the same struggle that you saw I had and now hear that I still have. (Philippians 1:29-30)

Elsewhere, Paul vaguely mentions some "opponents" (Philippians 1:28):

• "Some proclaim Christ from envy and rivalry[…] the others proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but intending to increase my suffering in my imprisonment." (Philippians 1:15, 17)
• "Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of those who mutilate the flesh!" (Philippians 3:2)
• "Many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things." (Philippians 3:18-19)

It appears that these guys are part of the same Jewish-Christian groups that have been hounding Paul for quite a while now. They believe in Jesus but are spreading false ideas about him. They also clearly think circumcision is a good idea, and Paul is not on board with that one bit.

But Paul doesn't spend too much time refuting these guys like he does in Galatians. Why? Because as far as Paul knows, the Philippians are staying strong in the face of these naysayers. Now, if he finds out otherwise? Well, then we're gonna have some issues.

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