Philippians: A Panorama Report

The book of Philippians was written by the apostle Paul, from prison to the early Christian church in Philippi. Finding a central theme for this epistle has been difficult; “Since the early days of historical-critical research, exegetes have had difficulty finding any main theme or a line of argument in Philippians.”[1] However, most scholars and Biblicists draw upon Paul’s character for Christian unity as the undergirding motif and reason for writing this epistle.[2] Paul also teaches the church about God and Christ while calling for reconciliation within the church.

Paul is addressing certain situations in the book of Philippians. The Judaizing threat had started to appear, financial troubles surfaced, and doubt about their new faith started to riffle throughout the church.[3] Persecution from the surrounding city abounded causing many to suffer at the hand of Hellenization. “Paul writes to believers that have been reliable partners for Paul in the faith and mission, who face the hostility of their neighbors on the one hand, and who have been distracted from their high calling by internal competition, posturing, and discord on the other. He writes to strengthen their resolve in the face of opposition, while also restoring a harmonious and cooperative spirit among the believers.[4]

There are many other themes in Philippians, one that pervades is a partnership. In many of his other epistles, Paul refers to himself as a father or an authoritarian archetype. In Philippians, he constantly refers to his relationship with the church of Philippi as one of friendship and partnership.[5] He opens with this in the prologue; “because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.(Philippians 1:5 ESV) He expounds upon this in verse six when he assures that they will continue as partners being blessed by Jesus Christ. He addresses partnership in chapters 1:13-26; 2:25-30; and 4:10-20.[6]

This partnership theme lays the ground for his call to unity in the church. We see unity and cohesion throughout the book; 2:1-4; 14-16; 4:2-4. Paul speaks of his tribulations and persecution concerning the church, that they have suffered together, in unity; 1:12-17. In chapter four he beseeches Euodias and Syntyche to reconcile and be one mind in the Lord. These two “threatened primary values of the Christian family—harmony, and unity (Phil 2:1–4). Paul is therefore concerned to calm any ripples of rivalry or division that may be moving out from these two leaders into the larger congregation.[7]

Paul has a wonderful use of joy in his letter. He exhorts the church to rejoice in suffering and servitude. Joy is expressed in the face of suffering, in service, amongst fellowship, to God, and so on. We see this in 1:9-11, 25, 27-28; 2:2, 12-18; 3:16-17; 4:17.[8] “It is more accurate to maintain that joy is the prevailing mood of the epistle, not its central theme.[9]

Paul’s central theme is to unify the church while rejoicing and giving thanks to God for all things. He calls for them to suffer in peace, as he has and continues their good work in the service of the Lord. Paul charges the congregation to be reconciled with one another, and the Holy Spirit, so the grace of God can manifest itself to all mankind.

Paul speaks to the benevolence of God; “But my God shall supply all your needs according to his riches in Glory by Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 4:19 ESV) He also relates the suffering of Christians to a sort of nobility, as to suffer in unison with Christ; “ For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.” (Phil. 1-29-30 ESV) So, as Christ suffered, so shall we also, in his name, with thanksgiving and praise. He speaks to the character of the suffering servant, now the church, and the works of God which supplies all while working his will in us all for his good pleasure; 2:12-18. “The concept of God’s enabling grace for their labors is introduced in 1:7-8 and expanded in 1:29-30. The adequacy of this grace is the main presupposition of and the basis for the exhortations to rejoice, given in 3:1 and 4:4.[10]

Paul speaks to the character of the Church and strengthens its mission with posterity and steadfastness. He “continues to challenge us to reflect mature discipleship and to build up strong, harmonious communities of faith that are able to support their members in the face of an unbelieving world’s attempts to erode commitment.[11]

Bibliography

Childs, Brevard S. Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments: Theological Reflection on the Christian Bible. Fortress Press, 2011.

DeSilva, David A. An Introduction to the New Testament: Contexts, Methods & Ministry Formation. IVP Academic, 2014.

The KJV Cross Reference Study Bible. Barbour Publishing, Inc., 2016.

Swift, Robert C. “The Theme and Structure of Philippians.” Bibliotheca Sacra, no. 141, July 1984, pp. 234–254

Footnotes:

[1] Robert C. Swift, “The Theme and Structure of Philippians,” Bibliotheca Sacra, no. 141 (July 1984): 234.

[2]David A. DeSilva, An Introduction to the New Testament: Contexts, Methods & Ministry Formation (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2014), 640.

[3] Introduction commentary, The KJV Cross Reference Study Bible (Uhrichsville, OH: Barbour Publishing, 2016), 1307.

[4] David A. DeSilva, An Introduction to the New Testament: Contexts, Methods & Ministry Formation (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2014), 640.

[5]David A. DeSilva, An Introduction to the New Testament: Contexts, Methods & Ministry Formation (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2014), 645.

[6] Ibid, 654-655.

[7] Ibid, 655.

[8] Robert C. Swift, “The Theme and Structure of Philippians,” Bibliotheca Sacra, no. 141 (July 1984): 239.

[9] Ibid, 239.

[10] Robert C. Swift, “The Theme and Structure of Philippians,” Bibliotheca Sacra, no. 141 (July 1984): 248.

[11] David A. DeSilva, An Introduction to the New Testament: Contexts, Methods & Ministry Formation (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2014), 640.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s