New Testament Background: Phillipians

J. Lewis Taylor

Written to:

The church at Philippi in Macedonia, probably the first branch established in Europe. (See Acts 16.)


The apostle Paul.

Where written:

Traditionally from Rome (1:13, 4:22), where Paul was held prisoner awaiting trial "in my bonds" (1:7, 13, 16).

When written:

Apparently near the end of Paul's first imprisonment at Rome, about A.D. 61—62.

Purpose of the letter:

The Philippian saints had sent Epaphroditus to Rome to take gifts to Paul (4:18) and to minister to his needs (2:25). Paul sensed the longing of Epaphroditus to return home after a near-fatal illness and decided to send him back. This decision furnished an occasion for the letter.

Unlike most of Paul's other epistles, this one did not seem to be prompted by major doctrinal squabbles or moral difficulties among the saints, but was rather "a letter of friendship, full of affection, confidence, good counsel and good cheer. It is the happiest of St: Paul's writings, for the Philippians were the dearest of his children in the faith." (J.R. Dummelow, The One Volume Bible Commentary, New York: MacMillan Co., 1936, p. 969.)

Major Themes:

What does an apostle say to a branch of the church that is doing quite well in living the gospel?

1. Since Christ is the basis of your true life, seek always "the things which are Jesus Christ's" (2:21), live in and rejoice in him—Jesus assumed "the form of a servant" (2:7) in mortality, and by his obedience and atonement was exalted by the Father "above every name" (2:9). Thus to him every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that he is indeed our Lord (2:10—11). For Paul, to "win Christ" (3:8) is the supreme achievement of life.

2. "Press toward the mark" (3:14)—Many modern Christians claim to be saved, through the pure grace of Christ and by witness of the Spirit, before they have necessarily demonstrated their complete faithfulness. Yet as Paul indicates, to achieve salvation, even with the indispensable aid of Christ, is not easy or instantaneous. One must work at it, even "with fear and trembling." (2:12.) Even near the end of his dedicated life, Paul himself announced that he had not attained perfection. He was still reaching, still pressing toward the mark for "the prize" of eternal life. (3:12—14.) Regardless of how well the Philippian saints were living, Paul counseled them to do better.

Questions might arise from 2:6 regarding Christ's being "equal with God" in light of the Savior's earlier statement, "My Father is greater than I." (John 14:28.) Paradoxically, both statements are true. The Father will forever be preeminent in that (1) Jesus obtained the fulness of God's glory from and through the Father (see D&C 93:16—17), and (2) as Jesus' Father and Patriarch, our Heavenly Father is and will be forever the Chief Governor or Administrator in the affairs of his kingdom. At the same time, however, because of the very fact that he did receive all power and a fulness of the Father's glory, he may quite properly be thought of as "equal with God."