Because of its more personal flavor, some people have trouble seeing structure in the letter. But we must remember that Paul was not writing this letter as a thesis. He is in Rome awaiting trial. The future is uncertain. At the same time the once relaxed atmosphere of religious tolerance throughout the Roman Empire has changed and persecution is on the rise. Therefore Paul is most interested in affirming the Philippians’ faith, reassuring them that Christ will see them through anything life can bring their way, and instructing them on how to live as Christ lived particularly in regards to one another. The book can be outlined as such: 1:1-11 (Greetings and thanksgiving); 1:12-30 (Results of Paul’s imprisonment); 2:1-18 (Teaching on how Jesus demonstrates the way we should live); 2:19-30 (Update on Epaphroditis and travel plans); 3:1-11 (Paul has set his goals on the person of Christ and desires to know Him even more); 3:12-4:1 (Seek maturity in Christ and citizenship in Heaven); 4:2-9 (Qualities the believer should aspire to) ; 4:10-23 (Expressions of appreciation and love for the Philippians’ concern for Paul).
Some of the most beautiful words about Christ in all of the New Testament are found in Philippians. Some call Phil. 2:5-11 a hymn of praise, which in fact it is, but it is also an amazingly concise statement concerning Christ’s deity, His incarnation, and His future exaltation. Paul’s passion in serving Christ is also evident in his own personal conviction so joyfully proclaimed in 1:21, “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”. Yet Paul also struggles knowing that while death will unite Him with Christ for all eternity, it will remove him temporarily from being able to see his beloved “family” in Philippi. Knowing this, the bulk of the letter addresses the “practical theology of a Christ-centered life” as one writer noted. Six themes emerge from this: 1) Through Christ believers are able to bear the fruit of righteousness (1:11); 2) Believers should take advantage of every situation to see where Christ can be preached as Paul has found opportunity to preach even in his imprisonment (1:12-14); 3) Christ’s humility serves as an example for all believers to follow (2:1-5); 4) Power for living is found in knowing Jesus both through His sufferings and His resurrection; 5) Mature Christians have a goal which is becoming more like Jesus and they will press on toward that goal like a runner in a marathon; and 6) There are several outstanding qualities of Christian character. Among them are peace, joy, unity, and forbearance (4:1-13). Above all Paul shares two vital “secrets” to Christian living: being free of anxiety (4:6-7) because our focus is on Christ; and developing a Christian outlook by which life is approached consistently (4:8-9).
Philippians is a book loved by many Christians due to its upbeat and overall positive tone. As for me, I am no exception! It had a tremendous impact on me as a teen and still does to this day. I often find myself recalling the words of Paul concerning Christ, “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ, Jesus” (2:5) and his advice on where my focus should be, “Whatever is right, whatever is true...let your mind dwell on these things” (4:8-9). Take time this week and read through Philippians several times. Think of yourself as being a part of that church and apply the principles written there to whatever situation you may find yourself in. It will be a powerful experience when you make it your own.
Ann H. LeFevre, M. Div.
Week of 10/18/2015