Overview of Philippians and Study of Philippians 1-4
December 9th

Produced by The Listening for God Ministry
Copyright 2016

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While Galatians may have been Paul’s sternest letter, Philippians is Paul’s most joyous one. In these four chapters he expresses his gratefulness for gifts and for the faithfulness of the people of Philippi.

References used for the analysis of this book include the following:

  • Holy Bible, New Revised Standard Version , Zondervan Bible Publishers, Grand Rapids, MI; 1993
  • Hunter, Archibald M, Layman’s Bible Commentary, Volume 22 (Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians), John Knox Press, Richmond, VA, 1959
  • Life Application Study Bible, New International Version, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, M; 1991 (with commentary from an inter-denominational team of experts)
  • Men's Devotional Bible, New International Version, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI; 1993 (with daily devotionals from Godly men)
  • Peterson, Eugene, The Message, The Bible in Contemporary Language, NavPress, Colorado Springs, CO, 80920, 2005
  • “Sermon Library,” Noroton Presbyterian Church, Darien, CT www.norotonchurch.org/sermons/min_sermons.html

Philippians 1-3 (Ode To Joy)

Please refer to one or more Bible versions of your choice to read this section. We recommend that you read at least two versions for added understanding. For your convenience, we have provided six links below, each of which takes you directly to today's chapters in a specific version:

Key Verse

The very credentials these people are waving around as something special, I’m tearing up and throwing out with the trash—along with everything else I used to take credit for. And why? Because of Christ. Yes, all the things I once thought were so important are gone from my life. Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant—dog dung. I’ve dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ and be embraced by him. I didn’t want some petty, inferior brand of righteousness that comes from keeping a list of rules when I could get the robust kind that comes from trusting Christ—God’s righteousness.

- Philippians 3:7-9 (MSG)

Summary of Chapters

In chapter 1, Paul declares his confidence that the Philippians will continue their faithful work until the end. He also laments his longing to be with them. Paul explains that though he is imprisoned in Rome, his situation has enabled him to witness and give encouragement to others. He rejoices despite his physical constraints and the uncertainties of the outcome of his trial because he knows he will be with Christ in the end and can see that the good work is being carried out by the Philippians and others.

In chapter 2, Paul warns the Philippians to continue to be humble servants, modeling themselves after Christ. He advises them to fear and obey God:

    Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.

    Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.”

    - Philippians 2:12-14 (NIV)

In chapter 3 Paul instructs the people to find joy in worshipping the Lord who has enabled them to be saved by faith. He warns them of false teachers who claim superiority because of their heritage, training and outward appearance.

Paul puts human achievements in perspective by noting that his resume is superior to those false teachers or just about anything else. But he considers all of that rubbish (in some versions translated as "dog dung") that he “may gain Christ and be found in him, not having righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ (Phil 3:8-9 - NIV).” “Not that I have already obtained all of this (Phil 3:12 - NIV)” says Paul, but it’s the goal that he runs towards.

In the final chapter, number 4, Paul counsels the Philippians to continue to find Joy in giving and tells them not to worry! The following verses describe what to do instead of worrying and explain why this approach works:

    Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by petition and prayer with thanksgiving present your request to God.

    - Philippians 4:4 (NIV).

    I’ve learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances.

    - Philippians 4:11 (MSG)

    But my God shall supply all your needs according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.
    - Philippians 4:19 (KJV).

Reflection and Application

Notice that this letter of praise is almost half the size of the critical letter sent to the Galatians. Why is that? Perhaps it’s easier to summarize our praise then our criticism, because when we criticize we are not sure whether or not the receiver is absorbing all we are saying. But when we praise, we feel pretty confident that we have our audience’s attention.

Therefore, if at all possible, we should seek to praise and are likely to get farther. Criticism should be reserved for extreme situations where we have authority or a specific calling.

Paul’s writing here is so beautiful and powerful that it seemed more appropriate to quote many of his verses as opposed to attempting to paraphrase. This is one of the books worth reading over and over to absorb all these inspirational verses and to understand Paul’s explanations of the faith. In fact, the Reverend Gregory Doll once noted that the second chapter in Philippians is the “apex of Paul’s theology.”

Is it hard to imagine that Paul wrote this joyous, well-thought, and beautifully written letter from prison? Is it hard to imagine someone in our lifetime who would be imprisoned for preaching God’s word? Yet it has happened in modern times in Nazi Germany, Communist China and other places. One of the most well-known examples is Dietrich Bonhoeffer who refused to bow down to the Nazis and continued to preach the truth, ultimately writing his own death sentence. There is a well-written new biography on Bonhoeffer written by Eric Metaxas. This book provides the details and context of Bonhoeffer’s life, but is an easy read in a conversational style.

Chapter 3 includes another one of Paul’s most well-known statements. Everything he has previously done is rubbish compared to knowing Christ. His modern resume would have been the equivalent of degrees at Harvard and/or Oxford and a family history of royalty in the United Kingdom or Sons of the Revolution in the US. Few, if any, of his contemporaries could compare, yet he clearly says that these credentials are nothing worth boasting about – the only thing to boast about is what Christ has done for us. He further clarifies by noting that he has not yet achieved salvation – because he still has the remainder of his life to live, but that is the goal he for which he aims.

Paul also says don’t worry, but be happy.

In summary, his advice to us is not to boast nor worry, but be humble and happy in knowing Christ. We ought to save our boasting for him and present our worries to him. Some of us might struggle with worries that keep us up at night, but we may find that if we lift those concerns up to God we can sleep easier knowing that they are in his hands and “he will meet all of our needs.”

Another contemporary who spoke the truth is Charles Monroe (Sparky) Schultz (November 26, 1922 – February 12, 2000), the creator of the Peanuts comic series. He was a Christian who worked God's message into his stories. When he was asked to create a Christmas special in 1965 he figured it would be appropriate to include a scene in which one of the characters reads from a section of the Gospel of Luke that describes Jesus’ birth. That seems reasonable to include a reading of the basis for Christmas in a Christmas story, but the executives in the ivory tower at CBS headquarters in New York City didn’t like the idea. They thought it might turn off the American public, who would then turn off the program and not see any of the commercials. They also didn’t like the idea of the jazz-themed Christmas music composed by Vince Guaraldi.

The network big wigs told Schultz to take out Jesus and all that jazz, but he persisted and won. The show was broadcast on today’s date, December 9th, in 1965 – with the real Truth tucked in the middle and Guaraldi’s score playing in the background. Over fifty years later, this cartoon continues to be a holiday favorite and the music continues to be a best-seller. In fact, a re-mastered version of the songs was released in 2012, which brought additional joy to the dire-hard fans of this score.

You can read more about the David and Goliath battle between Schultz and the suits at CBS by clicking the first link below. You can also click on the YouTube video below that to see the Bible-reading scene that the higher-ups wanted to leave on the cutting room floor:

Gospel According to Peanuts

Questions and Prayers for Further Reflection

    Related Questions
    1. What is one of your favorite Christmas shows on TV?
    2. How was Paul able to exude joy while trapped in prison?
    3. How can we exude joy when we feel we our trapped in our own prisons – whatever they may be?

    Recommended Prayer
    Father in heaven, we know you have ways to make things happen to serve your purpose. You chose Paul and you chose us. Help us to choose you.

    Prayer Concern
    TV Executives and Writers

    Looking Ahead

    Tomorrow's reading:
    Overview and Study of the Book of Colossians (Keep Up the Good Work, But Watch Out)

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