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Bible Commentaries

Hampton's Commentary on Selected BooksHampton's Commentary

- Philippians

by Gary Hampton

Paul and Philippi

Paul, the Author of Philippians

Paul wrote the Philippian letter from Rome during his first imprisonment. Timothy was with him at the time, so he was mentioned by Paul. The apostle probably used Timothy's name here because he was with him when the church at Philippi was started. He described both of them as servants of Christ, or we might say in bondage to Christ. It is important to realize all who have reached an age of knowing right from wrong are slaves ( Rom_6:16-18 ). All Christians are like slaves who have been purchased by the Lord, our master ( 1Co_6:19-20 ).

Concerning the writing of this letter, Lipscomb says: This epistle was written by Paul while in "bonds" in the Praetorium (1:7-13.) He sends greetings from Caesar's household (4:21); he expresses expectation of some crises in his imprisonment (1:20-26); and confident hope of visiting Philippi (1:26; 2:24.) All those indications place it in the first imprisonment of Paul in Rome which we know to have lasted "two whole years" ( Act_28:30 ), which certainly began in the year A.D. 61. Therefore, its date must be somewhere towards the end of the imprisonment, in the year of A.D. 63.

To the Saints In Philippi

Paul wrote to the saints, who would not be just those who were especially holy or had died in the Lord. Instead, it would include all those who were separated from sin and dedicated to God's service ( 1Co_6:9-11 ). Every Christian would be included in this designation ( 2Th_1:10 ).

The letter is also addressed to the bishops and deacons. It was Paul's practice, at the end of the first missionary journey, to ordain elders in every church ( Act_14:23 ). These men were the overseers, or bishops, of the church and were to watch for the safety of the members' souls ( Act_20:17 ; Act_20:28-32 ; Tit_1:5-14 ; Heb_13:7 ; Heb_13:17 ; 1Pe_5:1-4 ).

All Christians are deacons, or servants, but here the word is used more specifically for the office of deacon ( 1Ti_3:8-13 ). Their job appears to have been to attend to physical needs of the brethren and routine requirements. In doing this, they freed the elders for the more important tasks of prayer and study. Thereby they could more readily keep themselves and the flock safe (compare Act_6:1-7 ).

The City of Philippi

D. Edmond Heibert, in his book An Introduction to the Pauline Epistles, gives us a little insight into the nature of the city of Philippi. "It was an inland town and was situated about eleven miles north of the seaport of Neapolis." It was strategically important because it stood at the place where a mountain pass ran through the Balkans. The ancient name of the town was Crenides, which means, "The Little Fountains". This likely came from the number of springs in the area. Philippi II of Macedonia saw the importance of its location and took it over to protect Macedonia from the Thracians. In 356 B.C., he had it enlarged, fortified and renamed Philippi.

The Romans built the Via Egratia, a highway, through the pass, therefore through Philippi. In 42 B.C., the Roman Republican armies, led by Brutus and Cassius, were defeated by the armies of Mark Anthony and Octavian, who was later called Augustus. The pride brought on by the victory led Octavian to elevate the city to colony status. Its citizens were Roman citizens and their names were enrolled in Rome's annuls. They did not have to pay poll and property tax.

They were not ruled by a provincial governor and they had the right to own land. Hiebert says the population of the city included the Roman colonists, Macedonians, and Orientals. Few Jews settled there because it was an agricultural and military city.

Paul and Philippi

Paul first visited Philippi on his second missionary journey ( Act_16:1-40 ). Timothy had joined Paul for the first time at Lystra. The Holy Spirit would not allow them to go to Asia or Bithynia. Instead, at Troas, Paul had a vision of a Macedonian man calling for them to come over and help them. As they set sail from Troas, Luke's account changes from a discussion of what Paul, or "he," did to what "we" did. Therefore, we conclude he joined Paul and Timothy at Troas ( Act_16:10 ). Immediately after receiving the Macedonian call, they sailed to Neapolis and journeyed on to Philippi, which Luke calls the chief city. We do not really know what made him say it was the chief city.

The few Jews who lived there did not have a synagogue, but they did have a place outside of the city for prayer. On the Sabbath, Paul went to that place and spoke to the women assembled there. Lydia and her household were baptized. Paul healed a damsel possessed with a spirit. He and Silas were caught, dragged to the marketplace and beaten for it. It was in prison that they met, taught and baptized the Philippian jailer and his household.

The magistrates wanted Paul and Silas released the next day. Paul would not be released privately, but appealed to his Roman citizenship and the fact that he was beaten without being charged. The magistrates had to go in person and ask them to leave. Hiebert thinks Paul's insistence upon his rights as as Roman citizen was very important. He says the magistrates needed to realize that this was not some insignificant revolutionary movement, as had been charged, but was being preached by Roman citizens. He thinks this may have saved the young church some later problems. After meeting with and comforting the brethren at Lydia's house, Paul and his company departed.

The Church in Philippi

It should be remembered that this group of Christians would have been included in those Macedonia Christians Paul commended for their liberality ( 2Co_8:1-15 ). They also had a close working relationship with Paul, having supported him on more than one occasion ( Php_4:15-16 ; Act_18:5 ; 2Co_11:7-10 , esp. 9). Paul may have visited them when Corinth was having its problems ( 2Co_2:12-13 ; 2Co_7:5-6 ). He did keep the passover with them in Act_20:6 . So, it comes as no surprise that he would want them to have God's grace and peace. Grace is kindly acts freely given. Peace is an internal calm.


Coffman, James Burton. Commentary on Galatians Ephesians Philippians Colossians . Austin: Firm Foundation Publishing House, 1977.

Harrell, Pat Edwin. The Letter of Paul to The Philippians . Austin: R. B. Sweet Co., Inc., 1969.

Hiebert, D. Edmond. An Introduction to the Pauline Epistles . Chicago: Moody Press, 1971.

Lipscomb, David. A Commentary on the New Testament Epistles Volume IV . Nashville: Gospel Advocate Company, 1939.

Robertson, A. T. Paul's Joy in Christ: Studies in Philippians . Nashville: Broadman Press, 1979.

Thayer, Joseph Henry. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament . Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1977.

Wiersbe, Warren W. Be Joyful . Wheaton, Illinois: Victor Books, 1974.

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