New Testament | Study Guide


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New Testament | Philippians | Summary



  • Paul and his cosender Timothy write to "all the saints" in Philippi.
  • Paul is in prison, but while there he has been able to spread the gospel to the guards.
  • Although he would like to "depart and be with Christ" by dying, he knows it is "more necessary" for his Philippian followers that he continue to live and maintain a relationship with them (Philippians 1:23–24).
  • The poem or hymn in Paul's letter describes how Christ was in the form of God but acted like a slave when he submitted to death on a cross.
  • Paul offers specific advice to two women, Euodia and Syntyche, who have apparently been involved in some kind of dispute.
  • His final reminders to the community emphasize joy.


The letter advises rejoicing in the midst of, and perhaps even because of, suffering. Paul presents a number of examples that the Philippians can imitate when they are ready to participate in this way of life. Paul himself is one example. He argues that his personal suffering can advance the gospel if people see him persevering, even in prison (Philippians 1).

The autobiographical information in Philippians 3 provides a model for shifting one's focus from what Paul calls the concerns of the flesh to matters of the spirit. He uses this dichotomy (pair of opposites) of flesh and spirit to describe his changing understanding of righteousness: while Judaism requires circumcision and participation in the covenant, Paul argues that Christ-believers are righteous because of Christ. Finally, Paul points out that all of his suffering has taught him to be satisfied with whatever life sends his way, as long as he relies on the strength he gets from God and Christ.

The central example of how enduring suffering can be positive comes from Jesus. The gospel summary in the hymn of Philippians 2 introduces a Christological concept called kenōsis, a Greek term that means emptying. According to the hymn Christ was in the form of God but emptied himself and became subject to suffering and death. Christ's willingness to undergo the extreme humiliation of being executed as a criminal is rewarded: God exalts Christ and gives him authority to be glorified in all of creation.

Paul also references the idea of a divine reward if Christ-believers share Christ's suffering "by becoming like him in his death" (Philippians 3:10). The hymn may be an original Pauline composition, but some scholars suggest it was a preexisting piece of Christ-believers' baptismal liturgy (public worship) that Paul chose to include in the letter, because it supported his theological teachings.

Some scholars suggest that Paul might have been considering suicide at the time he wrote this letter. In the ancient Greco-Roman world and in Paul's Jewish context, suicide could be considered a form of noble death if it was undertaken out of commitment to some philosophical or religious ideal. In the letter to the Philippians, Paul suggests that his own death and departure from earthly life would have the advantage of uniting him to Christ. However, the religious ideal of serving the living, Christ-believing community seems to outweigh Paul's own desire to go be with Christ.

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