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Bailey Sadler Class



Study Theme:  Thrive: Living in Real Joy

What This Lesson Is About:

Week of:

Lesson Title:

This week is the beginning of a new study focused how our relationship with God can and will Thrive because of our joyful love for God’s Word.  The titles of this six session study titled Thrive is taken from Paul’s Letter to the Philippians.


Jan. 22

Praying with Joy


Jan. 29

Sharing with Joy


Feb. 05

Following with Joy


Feb. 12

Growing with Joy


Feb. 19

Practicing Joy


Feb. 26

Giving with Joy






Prayer is an opportunity to experience joy.


Philippians 1:3-11





Joyfully Pray For What God Has Done  (Phil. 1:3-6)

Joyfully Pray For What God Is Doing  (Phil. 1:7-8)

Joyfully Pray For What God Will Continually Do  (Phil. 1:9-11)


  Philippians is one of Paul’s prison letters.  Without question, Paul was imprisoned for preaching the gospel.  However, scholars have debated the exact location where he was imprisoned.  Some believe Paul wrote Philippians from Caesarea, where he stayed as a prisoner for two years (AD 58-59).  Luke recounted this imprisonment in Acts 24:23,27.  However, some believe that he wrote from Rome.  This is the traditional view.  Paul’s first imprisonment in Rome was during AD 60-62.

What we can be certain about is that Paul was enduring a difficult time in prison.  He did not know whether this imprisonment would end in life or death (Phil. 1:21).  He no longer could travel and preach the gospel, which is what he sensed God was calling him to do.  He could not work as a tent-maker to support his ministry, thus making him dependent on the churches he had established to support him.  Philippi was one of those churches that generously provided for him.  These churches and their support for Paul in prison gave him great joy and confidence to continue sharing Christ—even in prison!

SOURCE: Advanced Bible Study; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; One LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.


Too often prayer is limited to asking God to do something, intervene in a crisis, or fix a problem. To be sure, the Bible is full of invitations for us to call on Him to work, but our prayers should also reflect the fact that God has already been at work and continues to work in our lives. When we reflect on His work in our lives and the lives of others, it should cause us to rejoice and motivate us to continue praying joyfully for God’s work.

SOURCE: Life Ventures-Bible Studies for Life; Leader Guide; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN.


Joyfully Pray For What God Has Done  (Phil. 1:3-6)

3 I give thanks to my God for every remembrance of you, 4 always praying with joy for all of you in my every prayer, 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. 6 I am sure of this, that He who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.








1.   How would you define the word “joy”?  (See Digging Deeper.)

2.   What does it mean to you to pray with joy?

3.   What are some things you have heard other people say that had brought joy in their lives?

4.   How often have you heard anyone (even believers) say that God’s Word or God, Himself, has brought joy to their lives?

5.   Why do you think that you don’t hear that said?

6.   IF God wants His followers to have true joy, how is that obtained?

7.   What brings or has brought you the most joy in your life?

8.   Do you think material joy lacks sustained fulfillment?  If so, why?

9.   Do you find joy in and through prayer?  If so, how does prayer bring you joy?

10.   Why do you think Paul stated that he gave thanks for the Philippian believers at every remembrance of them (v. 3)?

11.   According to verse 4, how did Paul pray for the Philippian believers?

12.   What do you think it means to pray with joy for someone (v. 4)?

13.   According to verse 5, what was the source of Paul’s joyful prayer for the Philippian believers?

14.   How would you explain the meaning of verse 6?

15.   Based on verse 6, Paul stated that he was sure of what?

16.   What does verse 6 have for your life today?

17.   Based on these 4 verses, how would you describe Paul’s relationship with the Philippian church?

18.   If our joy comes from being centered on Jesus Christ, what are some things that will help us stay focused on Him?

19.   What does the perfecting work of God mean?

20.   How can an understanding of the perfecting work of God help you to grow in your Christian walk?


Lasting Lessons in Philippians 1:3-6:

1.  We should pray for fellow believers whenever we think of them.

2.  Our prayers should be marked by the element of joy.

3.  We can partner with those who labor in the gospel by supporting their ministries.

4.  God does not abandon believers half way through—He completes in them what He started.



Joyfully Pray For What God Is Doing  (Phil. 1:7-8)

7 It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because I have you in my heart, and you are all partners with me in grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and establishment of the gospel. 8 For God is my witness, how deeply I miss all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.

1.   What do you think was right about the way Paul was thinking about the Philippian believers?

2.   How would you summarize verse seven?

3.   What words or phrases in verses 7-8 communicated Paul’s love for the Philippian believers?

4.   What do you think Paul meant that the Philippians were partners with him in grace?

5.   Based on verse 7, how would you describe the relationship between Paul and the Philippian believers?  

6.   What are some obstacles that may hinder us from building deep relationships with other believers in other churches?

7.   How can your church help you build the kind of relationships Paul described in these verses?

8.   According to what God is doing in your life, is this the basis for you to pray joyfully?  Why, or why not?

9.   How would you summarize verse 8?

10.   Why do you think Paul called on God as his witness to how much he missed the believers in Philippi?

11.   What do you think Paul meant when he said he missed the Philippian believers with the affection of Christ Jesus?

12.   What would it look like if all Christians loved each other like Christ loved them?

13.   Does your love for your fellow believers caused you to pray for the very best for them in their walk with Christ?

14.   What would that kind of love do for your spiritual growth?

15.   According to this passage, how is God actively working in a believer’s life?


Lasting Lessons in Philippians 1:7-8:

1.  Every believer should work to defend and to establish the gospel message.

2.  Believers should have deep affection for one another.



Joyfully Pray For What God Will Continually Do  (Phil. 1:9-11)

9 And I pray this: that your love will keep on growing in knowledge and every kind of discernment, 10 so that you can approve the things that are superior and can be pure and blameless in the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God.

1.   What do you think it means to pray joyfully for what God will continue to do?

2.   What steps do you think we could take to experience true joy through our prayer life?

3.   What do you think it means for your love to grow in knowledge and every kind of discernment?

4.   Based on verse 10, what was the purpose of a believer’s love to grow in knowledge and every kind of discernment?

5.   What steps can we take to grow in knowledge and discernment?

6.   What superior things do you think Paul had in mind?

7.   What do you think Paul meant that a believer could be pure and blameless in the day of Christ?

8.   What is the “day of Christ?” 

9.   What has the righteousness of believers has to do with the glory of God?

10.   Why does love lead us to live out what is both right and best in our lives?

11.   Do you believe our goal for growing in knowledge and every kind of discernment is to be biblically informed and deeply affectionate?  Why, or why not?

12.   What do you think it means to be filled with the fruit of righteousness?

13.   Do you think Galatians 5:22 would qualify as the “fruit of righteousness”?  Why, or why not?

14.   According to verse 11, where does that filling come from? 

15.   What are some things we can do to become focused on that filling?

16.   Do you think being focused on that filling would lead one to a more joyful prayer life?  Why, or why not?


Lasting Lessons in Philippians 1:9-11:

1.  Believers’ love needs to grow.

2.  Believers’ love needs to grow in knowledge and discernment—and this growth in love can be measured and even in specific actions.

3.  Believers always should be looking for the superior things in Christ.

4.  All believers should desire to appear pure and blameless before Christ on the day of judgment.

5.  All of our life and the righteousness we demonstrate should be for the glory of God.



Most of us have a friend or family member with whom we enjoy talking.  The subject is not as important as the deep, personal feelings that bind us together.  We can talk about the past, present, or future with delight unmatched by conversations with most others.

Transfer those feelings to time spent in prayer, and intimate conversation with God.  How joy-filled are those moments for you?  We should express gratitude with joy for what the Lord has done, joyfully seek to join Him in what He is doing presently, and rejoice even now as we anticipate what He will continue to do in our future here and in eternity.  For whom do you thank the Lord for bringing into your life?  How, and in what way, is the Lord working in your life that brings you joy?  Prayfully express with joy your confidence that the Lord will continue to work on your behalf.  And thank Him for the joy He brings to you!

A New Beginning for Your Life!

If you do not know the Lord, Jesus Christ, as your personal Savior, you can!  Just follow what is known as the “Roman Road to Heaven" (Rom. 3:23; 5:8; 6:23; 10:9; 10:13)  Becoming a Christian is as simple as believing the Scripture of the “Roman Road” and receiving the wonderful gift of forgiveness and unending life Jesus Christ wants to give you.  If you need help to overcome your unbelief, simply ask Jesus.  He can and will help!  Be sure to seek out a Bible-believing church that will nurture your newfound faith.  It’s vital to your spiritual health (See John 15:1-5).  And God bless you!

What are the implications of these truths for your life?  THE CHOICE IS YOURS, ISN’T IT!

REMEMBER, the safest place for a believer is in the center of God’s will.


Lesson Outline, Introduction, Discussion Questions, and Conclusion adapted from the following sources:

SOURCE: Life Ventures-Bible Studies for Life; Leader Guide; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN.

SOURCE: The Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; by Robert J. Dean; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; 1 LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.

SOURCE: Advanced Bible Study; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; One LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.



Focal Passage from three different translations of God’s Word: Philippians 1:3-11

King James Version: Philippians 1:3-11

Philippians 1:3-11 (KJV)

3 I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, 4 Always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy, 5 For your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now; 6 Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ: 7 Even as it is meet for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart; inasmuch as both in my bonds, and in the defence and confirmation of the gospel, ye all are partakers of my grace. 8 For God is my record, how greatly I long after you all in the bowels of Jesus Christ. 9 And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment; 10 That ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ; 11 Being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God.


New King James Version:  Philippians 1:3-11

Philippians 1:3-11 (NKJV)

3 I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, 4 always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy, 5 for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now, 6 being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ; 7 just as it is right for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart, inasmuch as both in my chains and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers with me of grace. 8 For God is my witness, how greatly I long for you all with the affection of Jesus Christ. 9 And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, 10 that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ, 11 being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.


New Living Translation:  Philippians 1:3-11

Philippians 1:3-11 (NLT)

3 Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God. 4 Whenever I pray, I make my requests for all of you with joy, 5 for you have been my partners in spreading the Good News about Christ from the time you first heard it until now. 6 And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns. 7 So it is right that I should feel as I do about all of you, for you have a special place in my heart. You share with me the special favor of God, both in my imprisonment and in defending and confirming the truth of the Good News. 8 God knows how much I love you and long for you with the tender compassion of Christ Jesus. 9 I pray that your love will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding. 10 For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ’s return. 11 May you always be filled with the fruit of your salvation—the righteous character produced in your life by Jesus Christ—for this will bring much glory and praise to God.


 (NOTE:  Commentary for the focal passage comes from four sources: The Expositor’s Bible Commentary New Testament,Believer's Bible Commentary,The Complete Biblical Library Commentary,” and “The Moody Bible Commentary,” and is provided for your study.)


Lesson Outline — “Praying with Joy” — Philippians 1: 3-11




Joyfully Pray For What God Has Done  (Phil. 1:3-6)

Joyfully Pray For What God Is Doing  (Phil. 1:7-8)

Joyfully Pray For What God Will Continually Do  (Phil. 1:9-11)


The Expositor’s Bible Commentary Old Testament:  Philippians 1:3-11

Thanksgiving (1:3-8)

1:3. Paul begins his letter by thanking God for his readers. He follows this pattern in all his Epistles except Galatians, where the absence of such sentiment forebodes the serious discussion to follow. With the Philippians Paul had a warm relationship, and this tone is established at the outset of the letter. By stating his thanks to “my God,” the author reveals his personal devotion. This was no stereotyped formula, but the natural outflow from the heart of a deeply spiritual man. The thanksgiving was prompted by the joyous memory Paul had of his Philippian friends. It was not that every single memory caused him to thank God, but that his whole remembrance of them was good.

1:4. These happy memories were reflected in Paul’s prayers (root: deesis) for the Philippians. Joy permeated his prayers even while he prayed for their needs.

1:5. What caused Paul the deepest satisfaction was the Philippians’ “partnership in the gospel.” The rich term koinonia denotes participation or fellowship, and expresses a two-sided relation (Friedrich Hauck, Koinonos, et al., TDNT, 3:798). In its NT uses it includes the believer’s participation in the life of God (1Cor 1:9; 1 John 1:3) and also the sharing of a common faith. Thus it assumes the existence of a brotherly relationship among believers (2Cor 8:4; Gal 2:9; 1 John 1:7). Although some have seen here a specific reference to the Philippians’ recent gift, it is likely that the apostle’s intent was broader. The gift was one expression of their partnership, but Paul was grateful and filled with joy over the frequent evidences of the Philippians’ sharing in the work of the gospel. These had been shown to him “from the first day” he had preached the gospel in Philippi about ten years before. At that time he had experienced the hospitality of Lydia (Acts 16:15) and the jailer and his family (Acts 16:33, 34). Later he had received gifts sent him at Thessalonica (Philippians 4:16) and at Corinth (2Cor 11:9), as well as the more recent one brought by Epaphroditus.

1:6. Of course, it was God who had produced their transformed lives by the work of regeneration. So Paul was confident that God would continue this work until Christ’s return. Even though he rejoiced in the Philippians’ generous gift and their evidences of spiritual growth, his confidence did not rest ultimately on the Philippians themselves, but on God, who would preserve them and enable them to reach the goal. The “good work” refers to the salvation begun at their conversion. To see it as a direct and limited reference to their monetary gift is unwarranted. Paul would not have hinted that their gift was only a beginning, and that more should follow.

God not only initiates salvation, but continues it and guarantees its consummation. The apostle’s thought relates not to the end of life but to the glorious coming of Jesus Christ that will vindicate both the Lord and his people. So Paul is asserting that God will bring his work to completion. Nothing in this life or after death will prevent the successful accomplishment of God’s good work in every Christian.

“The day of Christ Jesus” is a phrase occurring with only slight variations six times in the NT, three of them in Philippians (1Cor 1:8; 5:5; 2Cor 1:14; Philippians 1:6, 10; 2:16). The expression is similar to the “day of the Lord” (1 Thess 5:2) and the OT “day of Jehovah” (Amos 5:18-20). However, in contrast to the OT emphasis on judgment, the “day of Christ Jesus” is mentioned in all cases with reference to the NT church. It will be the time when Christ returns for his church, salvation is finally completed, and believers’ works are examined and the believer rewarded.

1:7. Paul was right in regarding the Philippians so highly, because in a sense they had become partners in his imprisonment and his current legal obligations. To say they were in his “heart” was to use a figure denoting not mere emotions or sentiment, but the essence of consciousness and personality. “Heart” among the Greeks and Hebrews included both mind and will, referring to a person’s innermost being (Friedrich Baumgartel and Johannes Behm, Kardia, TDNT, 3:605-614).

The reference to Paul’s imprisonment (“I am in chains”) belongs with the following rather than the preceding words, as giving evidence of the Philippians’ partnership in God’s grace. Even when it might have been dangerous to identify themselves openly with Paul, they had treated his misfortunes as their own and had come to his assistance with their gifts. “Defending and confirming the gospel” could be understood as negative and positive aspects of Paul’s preaching ministry—i.e., defending the gospel from attacks and proclaiming its message with proofs. There are reasons, however, for regarding these words as legal terminology. The use of te .. . kai (“both ... and”) ties the concept of imprisonment (desmois) with that of “defending and confirming.” Furthermore, “defending” (apologia) is used elsewhere in the NT of a legal defense (Acts 22:1; 25:16; 2Tim 4:16), and “confirming” (bebaiosis) was a legal technical term (Heb 6:16) for guaranteeing or furnishing security (BAG, p. 138). So Paul may be thinking primarily of his approaching hearing in which he must give a defense of the gospel he preached and in which he hoped also to have occasion to offer clear proofs of the truth of the gospel. In Paul’s view, all Christians were on trial with him, for the outcome could ultimately affect them all. The Philippians’ assistance by their warm fellowship was a clear reminder that they felt the same way, and thus were sharers of the same grace of God (salvation) as was Paul.

1:8. Only God could truly vouch for Paul’s feelings about his Philippian friends, because they ran so deep. This was not an oath but a statement of fact. Paul’s yearnings for this church were not merely the human longing to be with friends but were prompted by the very “affection of Christ Jesus,” with whom Paul was in vital union. It was the indwelling Christ who was producing the fruit of love in Paul by the Holy Spirit and who thus enabled him to yearn for their welfare with the compassion of his Lord.

Prayer (1:9-11)

1:9. Paul’s genuine thanks for the fellowship of the Philippian saints caused him to pray for their continued spiritual progress. Concern for others should express itself first in prayer, as one recognizes the importance of the divine factor in any lasting spiritual growth. The basic petition of Paul’s prayer is that his readers’ love might abound more and more. Love is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22) that enables all other spiritual virtues to be exercised properly (1Cor 13:1-3). Without it no Christian is spiritually complete (Col 3:14). No reason appears in the passage to limit this to love for God, for each other, or for Paul. Most likely, it is unrestricted and refers to the continuing demonstration of this spiritual fruit in any and all ways. The Philippians had already displayed their love in generously giving to Paul, but love never reaches the saturation point.

Love must be intelligent and morally discerning, however, if it would be truly agape. What is encouraged here is not a heedless sentiment, but love based on knowledge, the intellectual perception that has recognized principles from the Word of God as illuminated by the Holy Spirit. Spiritual knowledge, gained from an understanding of divine revelation, enables the believer to love what God commands and in the way he reveals. The joining of the expression “depth of insight” to “knowledge” stresses moral perception and the practical application of knowledge to the myriad circumstances of life. Spiritual knowledge is thus no abstraction but is intended to be applied to life. In this instance it will serve to direct the believers’ love into avenues both biblically proper and pure.

1:10. The discerning atmosphere in which their love should operate will require them continually “to discern what is best.” Some things are clearly good or bad. In others the demarcation is not so readily visible. In Christian conduct and the exercise of love, such factors as one’s influence on others, as well as the effect on oneself, must be considered (1Cor 10:32). The question should not only be “Is it harmful?” but “Is it helpful?” (1Cor 10:23).

The goal in view is the day of Christ, in which every believer must stand before his Lord and give an account of his deeds (2Cor 5:10). This sobering and joyous prospect for the believer should have a purifying effect on his life (1 John 3:3).

1:11. The conduct that will receive Christ’s commendation must be characterized by “the fruit of righteousness.” Transformed lives are the demonstration that God works in believers. Paul desires that when his readers stand before Christ, their lives will have been filled with the right kind of fruit. He is not talking about mere human uprightness measured by outward conformity to law (3:9). He is rather speaking of the spiritual fruit that comes from Jesus Christ, produced in them by the Holy Spirit sent by Christ (Gal 5:22). Consequently, all the glory and praise belongs not to believers but to God, for he has redeemed them by the work of his Son and has implanted within them his Spirit to produce the fruit of righteousness. The thought is similar to that in Ephesians 1:6, 12, 14, where Paul says that the entire plan of redemption should result in praise of God’s glory.

SOURCE: The Expositor’s Bible Commentary New Testament; Frank E. Gaebelein; General Editor; Zondervan Publishing House; A Division of Harper Collins Publishers


Believer's Bible Commentary: Philippians 1:3-11

1:3. Now Paul bursts into a song of thanksgiving. But that is nothing new for the apostle. The walls of the Philippian jail had echoed the songs of Paul and Silas on their first visit there. As he writes these words, he is probably a prisoner in Rome—but he is still singing "songs in the night." The indomitable Paul! Every remembrance of the Philippians awakened thanksgiving in his heart. Not only were they his children in the faith, but in many ways they had proved to be a model church.

1:4. In every prayer, he made supplication for the Philippians with joy. To him it was a sheer delight to pray for them—not dull drudgery. From this and many similar passages in Paul's writing, we learn that he was a man of prayer. It is not necessary to search further for the reason he was so wonderfully used of God. When we remember the extent of his travels and the host of Christians he knew, we marvel that he maintained such a personal, intimate interest in them all.

1:5. The specific reason for his thanksgiving was their fellowship in furthering the gospel from the first day until now. Fellowship might include financial assistance, but it extends also to prayer support and a wholehearted devotion to the spread of the good news. When Paul mentions the first day, one cannot help wondering if the jailor was still alive when this Letter was publicly read to the assembly at Philippi. If so, this mention of Paul's introduction to the Philippian believers would certainly have struck a responsive chord in his heart.

1:6. As the apostle thinks of the good start the believers have made in the Christian life, he is confident that God will finish the good work He has begun.

The work which His goodness began,

The arm of His strength will complete;

His promise is Yea and Amen,

And never was forfeited yet.

Augustus M. Toplady

Good work may refer to their salvation, or it may mean their active financial participation in the furtherance of the gospel. The day of Jesus Christ refers to the time of His coming again to take His people home to heaven and probably also includes the Judgment Seat of Christ, when service for Him will be reviewed and rewarded.

1:7. Paul feels justified in being thankful for the Philippians. In his heart he treasures a lasting memory of how loyally they stood with him, whether he was on trial, in prison, or traveling about in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. The defense of the gospel refers to the ministry of answering the critics, while the confirmation of the gospel relates rather to establishing the message more firmly in the hearts of those who are already believers. W. E. Vine says: "The gospel both overthrows its foes and strengthens its friends." Grace here means the undeserved strength from God to carry on the work of the Lord in the face of severe opposition.

1:8. The memory of their faithful cooperation makes the apostle long to be with them again. He calls God to witness how greatly he yearns for them with the affection of Jesus Christ. Paul's expression of love is all the more remarkable when we remember that he had been born a Jew and was writing to people of Gentile descent. The grace of God had broken down the ancient hatred, and now they were all one in Christ.

1:9. Thanksgiving now gives way to prayer. Will Paul ask wealth, comfort, or freedom from trouble for them? No, he asks that their love might constantly increase in knowledge and all discernment. The primary aim of the Christian life is to love God and to love one's fellow man. But love is not just a matter of the emotions. In effective service for the Lord, we must use our intelligence and exercise discernment. Otherwise, our efforts are apt to be futile. So Paul is here praying not only that the Philippians will continue in the display of Christian love, but also that their love will be exercised in full knowledge and all discernment.

1:10. Love that is thus enlightened will enable them to discern the things that are more excellent. In all realms of life, some things are good and others are better. The good is often the enemy of the best. For effective service, these distinctions must be made.

Love that is enlightened will also enable them to avoid what is questionable or downright wrong. Paul would have them sincere, that is, utterly transparent, and blameless in view of the day of Christ. To be without offense does not mean to be sinless. We all commit sins, but the blameless person is the one who confesses and forsakes the sin, asking forgiveness from those who were wronged and making restitution whenever possible.

The day of Christ, as in verse 6, refers to the Rapture and the subsequent judgment of the believer's works.

1:11.  The final petition of the apostle's prayer is that the Christians might be filled with the fruits of righteousness, that is, with the fruits which righteousness produces, or with all the Christian virtues that make up a righteous life. The source of these virtues is Jesus Christ, and their object is the glory and praise of God. This petition of Paul is exactly parallel to the words in Isaiah 61:3, "that they may be called trees of righteousness (being filled with the fruits of righteousness), the planting of the Lord (which are by Jesus Christ), that He may be glorified (to the glory and praise of God.)"

"The word 'fruit,'" Lehman Strauss writes, "... is associated closely with our relation to Christ and His expectation of us. The branches on a vine are intended to bear fruit."

SOURCE: Believer's Bible Commentary; by William MacDonald; Copyright © 1995, 1992, 1990, 1989 by William McDonald. Database © 2014 WORDsearch.


The Complete Biblical Library Commentary: Philippians 1:3-11

1:3. It was common for Paul to pray for the people to whom he wrote, and his prayers of thanksgiving and supplication usually go together. The basis of his thanksgiving was his overall remembrance of the believers in Philippi.

1:4. As he contemplated all that God had done for them and through them, Paul was filled with joy. Joy is the keynote of the entire epistle. Because joy is the by-product of something else, the apostle was not referring to some superficial happiness when he made this statement.

1:5. This joy resulted from their fellowship (koinonia) with him in the gospel. People who refer to fellowship as "two people in a ship" certainly cheapen the idea expressed in the original term. It meant far more than just enjoying someone else's company. In the original sense it expressed a joint participation in a common ministry or interest. Partnership is a very appropriate contemporary term to express the idea. (See the word study on koinonia in the Greek-English Dictionary.) The Philippians had participated in Paul's ministry with their prayers and finances for approximately 10 years, from the beginning of the assembly until the writing of this epistle. In fact, there is a definite article before the adverb "now" (literally, "the now"), so Paul probably was pointing to the gift they just had extended to him through Epaphroditus.

The Philippians seem to have found a very special place in the heart of the apostle. His mind raced back to "the first day," when he became acquainted with them. The warm relationship between a true pastor and his people continues even after he has moved away.

1:6. Conversely, even though he had much cause for thanksgiving as he remembered the Philippian saints, Paul was not entirely satisfied with their spiritual state. His desire for them was that God would continue the work He had begun in them.

Deists teach that God merely wound up the universe and withdrew from it, allowing it to operate by itself. Just as the Bible counters this kind of theory relative to creation, it also stresses that God is interested not only in the spiritual birth of His people, but also in their continued growth and maturity. A person certainly does not receive all of God's benefits at the conversion experience. That is only the starting point, the gateway to many benefits from God. Paul was "confident" that God would keep believers in this process until the day Jesus returns to receive His people unto himself.

1:7. The apostle's confidence in the Philippians was based upon the fact that they had shared God's grace with him for approximately 10 years. Even though he was in prison, God's grace was not imprisoned. Some of the greatest fruits of his ministry came while Paul was in prison. At least five of the Epistles the Holy Spirit inspired him to write were written while he was in prison. There the apostle's influence reached many, even in Nero's palace.

The term "defense" comes from the Greek word from which we derive apologetics (apologia). However, Paul used the word in connection with the "confirmation of the gospel." Too often we think of the term "defense" in a negative sense, as if we had to keep unbelievers from taking something from the gospel. Paul realized the process of defending would result in the confirmation of the gospel.

1:8. Paul compared his longing for the Philippians to the straining of an athlete reaching forward to the goal set for him. This longing was motivated by the love Jesus has for His own people, an affection so great that He died for His people. In King James' day "bowels" referred to the seat of the emotions.

1:9. Paul's actual prayer for the Philippians begins in this verse and includes two specific requests. His supplication for them was prefaced with one of the Greek terms expressing purpose (hina, "in order that"). He prayed that their love would abound more and more in knowledge and in perception. Thus it is possible for a believer's love (agapē) to increase. In like manner, "knowledge" (epignōsis) here denotes full or ever-increasing understanding.

"Judgment" or "perception" or "depth of insight," on the other hand, is concerned with practical application of love. Scriptural love is not indiscriminate love that is manifested in any manner a person chooses. The Christian experiences increasing love in his life and the ability to discern the proper application of it.

1:10. According to this verse, this combination will enable Christians to discern what is best for them. A gullible love accepts anything, but a love manifested in full knowledge and in practical application distinguishes the genuine from the spurious.

The root word translated "approve" here was used of the assaying of metals, as well as of the approval of candidates for the degree of medicine. Therefore, it refers to the act of testing something for the purpose of approving it. God does not want Christians to accept everything, but He wants them to approve only what is "best" or "excellent." Some things may be "good" in the normal sense of the word but may not be "best." Paul wanted the Philippians to accept the approved things that would help them "be sincere and without offense."

The second request in Paul's prayers for the Philippians relates to the level of personal character and demeanor. This sincere and unoffending attitude will be manifested ultimately at the judgment of believers by Christ himself.

1:11. Such an attitude also will yield a harvest of righteousness through Jesus Christ. In a real sense God is working in believers to make them more and more like the Lord Jesus Christ. When a person becomes a Christian and chooses to follow Jesus, that person accepts the righteousness of Christ as the only righteousness sufficient to satisfy the requirements of God. At the same time, a process begins in that life so that the righteousness of Christ becomes gradually imparted to that individual. Initially the righteousness of Christ is imputed at the time the person becomes a Christian, but the righteousness of Christ is imparted by the Holy Spirit throughout the believer's entire lifetime.

SOURCE:  The Complete Biblical Library Commentary – Chronicles.  Copyright © 1998 by World Library Press Inc. Database © 2010 WORDsearch Corp.


The Moody Bible Commentary: Philippians 1:3-11

Paul's Personal Relationship with the Philippians (1:3-11)

Paul's Thankfulness for the Philippians (1:3-8)

The first aspect of Paul's relationship with the church at Philippi was his gratitude for them. The bases for his thanks begin at v. 3. Although many translations render v. 3 temporally ("every time I remember you," NIV), the Greek preposition epi with the dative case is better rendered causally: "I thank my God for your every remembrance of me." Thus Paul's introductory thanks were related to the Philippians' recent financial support, which Paul later called "concern" (4:10). The second reason for Paul's joyful thanks was the Philippians' participation in the gospel (v. 5). This phrase is unique in Paul's letters. They not only believed the gospel but also were working with Paul to advance it.

Since this partnership of a congregation with Paul in the advance of the gospel was uncommon, Paul had unique affection for the Philippians. Having just received their support of him, he expressed his affection for them.

Paul's Prayer for the Philippians (1:9-11)

A second aspect of Paul's relationship with the Philippians was his praying for them. Paul's prayers have common themes: love (1Th 3:12), growth (Col 1:10), wisdom and knowledge (Eph 1:17), and good works (Col 1:10). Here Paul prayed that the believers would have a wise love. The goal was that they be able to approve (or better discern) the things that are excellent. That is, a wise love yields discernment. Such discernment, since it enables one to make excellent choices, will produce a sincere and blameless life (vv. 10-11). The goal, as always, was God's glory. This theme reappears in 1:20 and 2:11.

SOURCE: The Moody Bible Commentary; by Michael Rydelnik and Michael Vanlaningham; © 2014 by The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago. Database © 2015 WORDsearch.



Partnership in the gospel (v. 5)—Partnership indicates joint participation or cooperation in a specified activity. Elsewhere it is translated fellowship (2:1; 3:10), contribution (Rom. 15:26), and sharing (1 Cor. 10:16).

The day of Christ Jesus (v. 6)—Unknown yet imminent time when Christ returns to the earth; reference to “the day of the Lord” is common in the Old Testament.

SOURCE: Life Ventures-Bible Studies for Life; Leader Guide; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN.

JOY:  The happy state that results from knowing and serving God. A number of Greek and Hebrew words are used in the Bible to convey the ideas of joy and rejoicing. We have the same situation in English with such nearly synonymous words as joy, happiness, pleasure, delight, gladness, merriment, felicity, and enjoyment. The words joy and rejoice are the words used most often to translate the Hebrew and Greek words into English. Joy is found over 150 times in the Bible. If such words as “joyous” and “joyful” are included, the number comes to over 200. The verb rejoice appears well over 200 times.

Joy is the fruit of a right relation with God. It is not something people can create by their own efforts. The Bible distinguishes joy from pleasure. The Greek word for pleasure is the word from which we get our word hedonism, the philosophy of self-centered pleasure-seeking. Paul referred to false teachers as “lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God” (2 Tim. 3:4).

The Bible warns that self-indulgent pleasure-seeking does not lead to happiness and fulfillment. Ecclesiastes 2:1-11 records the sad testimony of one who sought to build his life on pleasure-seeking. The search left him empty and disillusioned. Proverbs 14:13 offers insight into this way of life, “Even in laughter the heart is sorrowful.” Cares, riches, and pleasures rob people of the possibility of fruitful living (Luke 8:14). Pleasure seeking often enslaves people in a vicious cycle of addiction (Tit. 3:3). The self-indulgent person, according to 1 Timothy 5:6, is dead while seeming still to be live.

Many people think that God is the great Kill-Joy. Nothing could be a bigger lie. God Himself knows joy, and He wants His people to know joy. Psalm 104:31 speaks of God Himself rejoicing in His creative works. Isaiah 65:18 speaks of God rejoicing over His redeemed people who will be to Him “a joy.”

Luke 15 is the most famous biblical reference to God’s joy. The Pharisees and scribes had criticized Jesus for receiving sinners and eating with them. Then Jesus told three parables—the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the loving father. The explicit theme of each parable is joy over one sinner who repents.

The joy of God came to focus in human history in Jesus Christ. The note of joy and exultation runs through the entire biblical account of the coming of Christ (Luke 1:14,44; Matt. 2:10). The most familiar passage is the angel’s announcement of “good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people” (Luke 2:10). Jesus spoke of His own joy and of the full joy He had come to bring to others (John 15:11; 17:13). He illustrated the kingdom of heaven by telling of the joy of a man who found treasure (Matt. 13:44). Zacchaeus was in a tree when Jesus called him, but he quickly climbed down and received Jesus joyfully (Luke 19:6). He had found life’s ultimate treasure in Christ.

As Jesus’ death approached, He told His followers that soon they would be like a woman in labor, whose sorrow would be turned into joy (John 16:20-22). Later they understood, when the dark sorrow of the cross gave way to the joy of the resurrection (Luke 24:41). Viewed from this perspective, eventually they came to see that the cross itself was necessary for the joy to become real (Heb. 12:2). Because of His victory and the promise of His abiding presence, the disciples could rejoice even after the Lord’s ascension (Luke 24:52).

The Book of Acts tells how joy continued to characterize those who followed Jesus. After Philip preached in Samaria, the people believed and “there was great joy in that city” (Acts 8:8). After the work of Paul and Barnabas in Antioch of Pisidia, “the diciples were filled with joy, and with the Holy Ghost” (Acts 13:52). Paul and Barnabas reported such conversions to other believers, “and they caused great joy unto all the brethren” (Acts 15:3). After the conversion of the Philippian jailer, he “rejoiced, believing in God with all his house” (Acts 16:34).

Joy in the Christian life is in direct proportion as believers walk with the Lord. They can rejoice because they are in the Lord (Phil. 4:4). Joy is a fruit of a Spirit-led life (Gal. 5:22). Sin in a believer’s life robs the person of joy (Ps. 51:8,12).

When a person walks with the Lord, the person can continue to rejoice even when troubles come. Jesus spoke of those who could rejoice even when persecuted and killed (Matt. 5:12). Paul wrote of rejoicing in suffering because of the final fruit that would result (Rom. 5:3-5). Both Peter and James also echoed the Lord’s teachings about rejoicing in troubles (1 Pet. 1:6-8; Jas. 1:2).

Joy in the Lord enables people to enjoy all that God has given. They rejoice in family (Prov. 5:18), food (1 Tim. 4:4-5), celebrations (Deut. 16:13-15), fellowship (Phil. 4:1). They share with other believers the joys and sorrows of life: “Rejoice with them that do rejoice, weep with them that weep” (Rom. 12:15).

SOURCE: Holman Bible Dictionary; General Editor, David S. Dockery; Holman Bible Publishers; Nashville, Tennessee.




Prisons Of The First Century

By Bennie R. Crockett, Jr.

Bennie R. Crockett, Jr. is professor of religion and philosophy, William Carey College, Hattiesburg, Mississippi.


EVERAL TIMES THE APOSTLE PAUL mentioned his being imprisoned or in chains (Rom. 16:7; 2 Cor. 11:23; Eph. 6:20; Phil. 1:7,13-14,17; Col. 4:3,10,18; 2 Tim. 1:8; 2:9; Philem. 1,9-10,13,23).  Although Paul’s Letters do not indicate the locations of his imprisonments, we know that from prison Paul wrote to believers tat Ephesus, Philippi, and Colossae and to Philemon.

The Book of Acts, however, does record Paul’s imprisonment or custody in four locations: Philippi, Jerusalem, Caesarea, and Rome.  First, Paul and Silas were put into stocks in Philippi, a Roman colony in Macedonia.  When an earthquake hit, the prisoners’ chains came loose and the prison doors opened (Acts 16:26).  Second, on the north side of Jerusalem’s temple mount, the Romans held Paul in the Fortress Antonia referred to as “the barracks” (22:24; 23:10).1  Third, in Caesarea on the Mediterranean coastline, the Roman procurator Felix had an official residence where Paul, under guard, spent two years (vv. 24,35; 24:27).  And fourth, at the end of Acts, Paul was under custody in Rome (28:17,20).  According to later church tradition, Paul additionally suffered imprisonment in Ephesus.2

Criminals and Punishment

Roman prisons and custody in the first century served at least six purposes: protection, remand, awaiting sentencing, execution, coercion, and punishment.3  The Roman emperor Vitellius used prisons to protect soldiers who had been threatened by fellow soldiers.4  The Romans also held many people on remand until trials could occur;5 both John the Baptist (Mark 6:14-29) and Peter (Acts 12:3-11) were such cases.  While in prison, people, including Christian martyrs, awaited sentencing.

Those for whom the Romans pronounced a death sentence often died in prison.  The bodies of prisoners who died in Rome could be thrown onto the steps of Capitoline Hill, then be dragged with hooks to the Forum, and finally cast into the Tiber River.6

The Romans also used prisons to coerce people to reveal guilty colleagues or to extract confessions.  Lastly, Roman officers could leave a person in prison for a variety of reasons as a form of punishment.7  Emperor Tiberius was inhumane toward prisoners, since he extended the life of several people for the purpose of psychological torture, which included a perpetual experience of fear and oppression.8

At least four different levels of imprisonment existed: prison, military custody, entrustment to sureties, and release with conditions.  Depending on the severity of the charge and the social status of the individual, a prisoner could have chains or not.  Military custody was less severe than imprisonment and could include being held in a barracks or camp anywhere in the empire or in someone’s home.  Custody also covered those going to a provincial capital or Rome for trial or those under watch prior to being sentenced to exile.

Prisoners who had committed less serious crimes were entrusted to sureties, rather than given military custody.  Sometimes, the Romans entrusted prisoners who were Roman citizens to family members for safe keeping.  On rare occasions, a person under military custody could be released on his own pledge to the Roman magistrate.  Though technically not in prison, one in military custody (especially a non-Roman) could encounter harsh treatment, but the magistrates sometimes accorded favor to Roman citizens or those with high social standing.

Offenses punishable by imprisonment concerned both capital crimes and lesser offenses.  Capital crimes included enemies of war, murder, rape, or treason against the state; these offenses often resulted in execution.  Treason had many facets, including initiating civil disturbances and rioting.  High treason—which involved betrayal of Rome, the emperor, or any Roman citizen—was cause for automatic imprisonment and execution.  Related to treasonous crimes, the authorities judged philosophers and those practicing occult rituals as betraying the state’s interests.  Other crimes included theft, piracy, mismanagement of money, debt, and desecration of the state’s temples.  For these crimes, punishments varied from place to place.9

Conditions in the Prisons

Custodial situations and the conditions in Roman prisons changed depending on the severity of the crime, the prisoner’s social standing, the magistrate’s kindness or cruelty, and the location of the imprisonment.  Many prisons were underground and dark, accompanied by a shortage of both food and sanitary surroundings.  One prisoner of Tiberius remarked that prison food gave no satisfaction but also would not permit one to die.10  Some magistrates allowed prisoners the benefit of care by family or friends (Acts 23:16-17).11

Paul’s imprisonment at the time of writing 2 Timothy conveys several conditions.  He asked Timothy to bring his coat left at Troas, his scrolls, and his parchments (2 Tim. 4:13).  Though lacking warmth, Paul had the freedom to read and write.  In the same period as Paul, Tacitus reported a man who wrote poetry while in prison and later was executed for doing so.12

Paul’s chains, however, were more serious (Eph. 6:20; Phil. 1;7,13-14,17; Col. 4:3,18), for Roman chains caused wounds, infections, and shame for many prisoners.13  Despite such potentially horrid conditions, Paul emphasized that he signed the Colossian letter (4:18) and that his imprisonment was for Christ (Phil. 1:7-17), a worthy cause for enduring the shame (v. 20; 2 Tim. 1:8).

On numerous occasions, Roman soldiers raped and abused female prisoners.  Suicide rates of men and women in prison were high.  Yet, irresponsible jailers could be executed for failing in their duty (Acts 12:19).

People greatly feared the prison in Rome, a facility used for serious offenders and those who had no social standing.  Later named Mamertine prison, it had a chamber 12 feet underground called the Tullianum.  Sallust, the ancient Roman historian and politician, said the Tullianum was an enclosure with walls all around and a chamber above with a stone roof.  Its conditions were hideous and fearful because of the neglect of prisoners, the darkness inside, and the putrid smell.14

The Romans used the prison in Alba Fucens, a city near Rome, to house enemies of the state.  One ancient historian described the prison as an underground dungeon, full of darkness, and noisy because of the large numbers of people condemned on capital charges.  The prisoners’ food became mixed with the unsanitary conditions of their personal uncleanness.  The resulting smell was so offensive that people tried to avoid even going near the prison.15 

Some prisons were in stone quarries.  A person in chains or bonds could be condemned to work in a quarry where walls, functioning as chains, kept one imprisoned.  Rome had several such quarry prisons; they were typically reserved for prisoners with higher social status.  Despite the grueling work, prisoners preferred the quarry prison over the Tullianum or a dungeon.

Regardless of the locations of Paul’s imprisonments, his life was in danger as he likely suffered in poor conditions.  His old age (Philem. 9) made these conditions more of a liability.  Ironically, from the darkness and inhumane conditions of his imprisonments, Paul penned words that have offered hope and encouragement to persons through the centuries.                                         

  1.  Herod the Great had named Fortress Antonia in honor of Mark Antony who had recommended to the Roman senate that Herod become king of Judea.  See Josephus, The Jewish Wars (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1989), 14.4.

  2.  Wansink, Chained in Christ: The Experience and Rhetoric of Paul’s Imprisonment (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1996), 14-17.

  3.  Rapske, The Book of Acts and Paul in Roman Custody in The Book of Acts in Its First Century Setting, vol. 3 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publ. Co., 1994), 10-20.

  4.  Tacitus, The Histories  (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1925), 1.58.

  5.  Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, Books XVIII-XIX  (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, n.d.), 18.6.5.

  6.  Dio Cassius, Roman History, Books LXI-LXX, trans. Cary (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1925), 58.1.3; 59.18.3; 60.16.1; 35.4.

  7.  Rapske, 16-20.

  8.  Dio Cassius, 58.3.3-5.

  9.  Rapske, 20-46.

 10.  Dio Cassius, 58.3.6.

 11.  Wansink, 82-84.

 12.  Tacitus, The Annals, trans. Jackson (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1937), 6.39.

 13.  Wansink, 47-48.

 14.  Sallust, The Jugurthine War, The Conspiracy of Catiline, trans. Handford (Baltimore: Penguine Books, 1964), 55.6.

 15.  Diodorus of Sicily, trans. Walton (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1957), 31.9.1-2.

SOURCE: Biblical Illustrator; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN 37234; Summer 2005.


Philippi:  A Historical Overview

By C. Douglas Weaver

Douglas Weaver is chairperson of the division of Religion and Philosophical Studies at Brewton-Parker College, Mount Vernon, Georgia.


NE OF THE MOST HELPFUL WAYS of understanding early Christianity is to see the growth of the early church as a process of breaking down barriers until the gospel was preached unhinderedly.  According to Frank Stagg, Luke described how barriers of race and nationality crumbled as the gospel was preached to the Samaritans (Acts 8:4-8), the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26-40), and  Cornelius the Roman centurion (Acts 10).  The gospel witness expanded from narrow Jewish nationalism to inclusion of Gentile God-fearers (non-Jews attracted to Judaism).  The last barrier to be broken was the inclusion of the pagan Gentile who had no previous religious experience.  The unhindered gospel was achieved, according to Luke, when Paul responded to the Macedonian call and entered Europe for the first time.  Traveling to Macedonia (northern Greece), Paul passed through Neapolis on to Philippi.  Philippi was “the leading city of the district of Macedonia, and a Roman colony” (Acts 16:12,RSV).  Here the Philippian jailer, a pagan Gentile, was converted; and the last barrier to an unhindered gospel came tumbling down.1

The church at Philippi was special to Paul; it was the only church he allowed to give him financial support.  His Letter to the Philippians describes a tender partnership, the type of relationship vital to Paul’s evangelistic method of establishing churches in significant cities and then having missionary “spokes” radiating out from the “hub” church.  How did Philippi achieve its significance?

Originally known as Krenides (Springs) Philippi was located on the Gangites River, about nine miles from the port of Neapolis (modern Turkish harbor of Kavalla) on the Aegean Sea.  The growth of the church there was so strategic because the city was located on the Egnatian Way, the main overland route from Asia to the West.  On their travels visitors would constantly bring business, cultural, and religious activity through Philippi.2  the city is no longer inhabited, but archeological excavations by the French have revealed much about the ancient city.

Philippi traces its history back to 360 BC when settlers from the nearby island of Thasos arrived.  These Thracians (all of Europe north of Greece was a part of the region of Thrace) thrived on working the gold mines of the area, which produced an annual revenue of 1,000 talents.  In 358 BC Philip, king of Macedonia (359-336 BC) and the father of Alexander the Great, initiated a series of conquests that would make Macedonia the dominant power in Greek affairs.  Philip changed the name of the small settlement of Krenides to Philippi, naming it after himself, and he added Greek settlers to the city’s population.  Philip improved the conditions of the area, drying up the marshes and constructing new roads.  More importantly, he rebuilt the city, building a wall around it in order to protect his eastern frontier.3

Rome took over and divided Macedonia into four districts in 168 BC, but Philippi was bypassed as capital of the first district in favor of Amphipolis (see Acts 17:1).  By the first century BC the days of the gold mines had passed, and Philippi had lost some of its glory.  When the Romans dissolved the district arrangement, Thessalonica became the capital for all of Macedonia.

Philippi’s fortunes rose in 42 BC when the imperial armies of Mark Antony and Octavian (later Emperor Augustus) defeated the republican armies of Brutus and Cassius, the assassins of Julius Caesar, at the Battle of Philippi.  As part of his celebration, Antony made Philippi a Roman colony and settled some of his soldiers there.  The city’s official name became Colonia Julia Philippensis.  In 30 BC, after Octavian defeated Antony and Cleopatra, Octavian sent some Italians who had supported Antony to Philippi to live, having decided to settle his own veterans in Italy for security.  In 27 BC, when the Roman Senate gave Octavian the name Augustus, Philippi was renamed and given the official name Colonia Augusta Julia Philippensis.  The city’s Roman pride was evident as inhabitants regarded both Philip and Augustus as founders of the city.

Philippi’s pride was its status as a Roman colony.  As a colony the city achieved the highly prized legal status of ius Italicum.  This standing meant that the city’s legal rights were on par with Rome; these rights included self-government and exemption from the supervision of the provincial governor.  Philippi’s magistracy was a duplicate of the Roman model, and Roman law was used in local affairs.  Roman officials were present in the city; Luke records how they participated in the arrest of Paul and Silas.  Coinage had Roman inscriptions; even in appearance the city tried to imitate Rome.4  In essence, Philippi was “a miniature Rome, its official language was Latin, and its inhabitants thought of themselves as Romans (Acts 16:21) even if they were in fact descended from Greek, Macedonian, or even Asiatic stock.”5  Throughout his Letter to the Philippians, Paul presupposed the pride of the Roman people of Philippi (Phil. 1:27; 2:15; 3:20; see also Acts 16:37).

The Roman influence on Philippi was pervasive and can be seen especially in the city’s pagan religious culture.  Thracian and Greek gods were still worshiped, but with the names of their Latin counterparts.  Philippian culture recognized the goddess Diana (Latin) who earlier was known as Artemis (Greek) and Bendis (Thracian).  Some gods did not have their names transformed into a Latin parallel (the Egyptian Isis and Serapis and the Asian Cybele, for example).  Some religious practices were Latin in origin.  The Roman Mars and Jupiter were worshiped, and the prominence of the imperial cult (worshiping the emperors) has testimony in still existing monuments in the excavated city.  Philippi’s religious culture was essentially syncretistic, a mixture of Thracian, Greek, Roman, and other types of religious ideas.  Inhabitants had easy access to these ideas because of the traffic on the Egnatian Way.  When Paul entered Philippi, he was not the first to arrive with new ideas.6 

Scholars believe the Jewish community in Philippi during Paul’s time was small.  There was no synagogue within the walls of the city.  Evidently it took Paul and Silas several days to find and meet for worship with Lydia and a group of women at a place of prayer along the riverside (Acts 16:12-13).7

A strong Roman patriotism, wary of the religious practices of Judaism, is apparent in Luke’s account of Paul’s entry into Philippi.  When Paul exorcised the demon from the Philippian slave girl, her owners were perturbed because of the loss of income derived from her soothsaying ability.  The men accused Paul and Silas of disturbing the peace with their Jewish religious practices.  According to some biblical scholars, Paul probably was exorcising the spirit of the supreme god of a native Thracian pagan cult (the god Sabazius called the Most High God, Acts 16:17).  Ralph Martin suggests that the anti-Semitism was possibly the result of the Emperor Claudius’ expulsion of Jews from Rome in AD 49.  This pro-Roman, anti-Jewish attitude probably resulted in the persecution of the earliest Christian community in Philippi because of its connection to the Jewish women’s group (Phil. 1:28-30; 2:15).8 

That the Philippian church began with a group of Jewish women proselytes is not surprising.  Biblical scholarship has demonstrated that the Jewish faith appealed to women.  W.W. Tarn and G.T. Griffith noted that the status of women in Macedonia exceeded that of all the other Greek provinces:

If Macedonia produced perhaps the most competent group of men the world had yet seen, the women were in all respects the men’s counterparts; they played a large part in affairs, received envoys and obtained concessions for them from their husbands, built temples, founded cities, engaged mercenaries, commanded armies, held fortresses, and acted on occasion as regents or even co-rulers.9

The importance of women in the early history of the Philippian church is obvious.  The church first met in the home of Lydia, Paul’s first convert in the city (Acts 16:14-15,40).  Paul’s letter to the Philippian church, moreover, mentions a disagreement between two of Paul’s female co-laborers, Euodia and Syntyche.

Biblical scholars disagree about one element of Luke’s description of Philippi.  In Acts 16:12 Philippi is described as “the leading city of the district of Macedonia” (RSV).  The Greek manuscripts upon which our English translations are based have different readings (textual variants) of the verse.  Technically, Macedonia was not a district but a province divided into four districts (or regions) each with its own regional council.  Amphipolis was the capital of the first regions that included Philippi.  Consequently, scholars speculate that the original textual reading described Philippi as “a city of the first region of Macedonia.”10  Whatever the original reading, as a Roman colony Philippi was a significant city.

When Paul wrote the Letter to the Philippians, he reflected that his establishment of the church in Philippi was “the beginning of the gospel” (4:15, RSV).  Ralph Martin concluded that Paul “had come to see the significance of his gospel’s penetration of the Roman world as it turned in the direction of the imperial city.”11  Paul first suffered at the hands of Roman officials at Philippi.  He had been involved earlier in religious riots at Pisidian Antioch and Iconium, but in Philippi Paul met Roman power face-to-face.  However, that power also was overcome.  Nevertheless, barriers were broken.  Jews, God-fearing Gentiles, and pagan Gentiles were converted.

Christian history remembers Philippi beyond Paul.  Ignatius, the famous bishop of Antioch, visited the Philippian Christians as he traveled to Rome to be martyred for the faith in AD 107.  Polycarp, another of the “apostolic fathers” of the second-century church, wrote a letter to the Philippians.  Subsequent witnesses to Christianity in Philippi include Christian epitaphs, one perhaps of the third century, and two large basilicas, dated from the fifth and sixth centuries.12                                                                                                            

  1.  Stagg, The Book of Acts: The Early Struggle For An Unhindered Gospel (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1995).

  2.  Craddock, Philippians, Interpretation (Atlanta: Knox Press, 1985), 12.

  3.  Vincent, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistles to the Philippians and to Philemon (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1976), xv.

  4.  Houlden, Paul’s Letters From Prison: Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, and Ephesians (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1977), 32; Moule. Xvi-xvii.

  5.  Caird, Paul’s Letters from Prison (London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1976), 96.

  6.  Ibid.  See also Houlden, 33.

  7.  Stagg, “Philippians” in The Broadman Bible Commentary, vol. 11 (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1971), 179.

  8.  Martin, Philippians (London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1976), 5-6.

  9.  Tarn & Griffith, quoted in Martin, 8.

 10.  Houlden, 32-33. See also Vincent, xix.

 11.  Martin, 9.

 12.  “Philippi” in The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, vol. 3, ed. Buttrick, (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1962), 787.

SOURCE: Biblical Illustrator; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN 37234; Fall 1994.


Friendship  Lessons From Philippians

By John Polhill

John Polhill is professor of New Testament at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky.


RIENDSHIP WAS A CONSTANT TOPIC of discussion among the Greeks and Romans.  Such notables as Aristotle,1  Plato,2 and Cicero,3 wrote significant treatments of the subject.  These covered such matters as the nature of true friendship.  They generally agreed that true friendship was among those who considered each other to be equals and accepted each other for who they were.  These ancient writers also agreed that friendship based on need or mere pleasure was inferior.4  True friends were loyal, trusting enough to share confidences with each other, sharing resources, or were even ready to die for the other.5

Although the Bible does not share in such discussions, at times it portrays some of the ideas of the Greco-Roman treatments.  For instance, the Old Testament presents a picture of true friendship in the relationship between David and Jonathan.  They loved each other with a love that surpassed their love for their own lives (1 Sam. 18:1-3; 19:1; 20:17).  They held each other in strict trust and confidence and made a pact with each other that even carried over to their descendants (20:14-17).6

In the New Testament, the clearest reflection of the Greco-Roman discussions occurred when Jesus called His disciples His “friends” (John 15:15) and spoke of His readiness to lay down His life for them (v. 13), urging them to love each other with the same sacrificial love (v. 12).  On the other hand, Paul rarely used the language of friendship, but he often reflected its ideals in his epistles.  This is particularly true of Philippians.

Marks of Paul’s Friendship

Loving—Central to Paul’s relationship with the Philippians was love.  In no other of his epistles did he express his love for a congregation more than in this one (Phil. 1:7-8; 4:1).  He showed his love by fully accepting the Philippians.  He did not “pull rank” on them by appealing to his being their apostle.  He did not use his authority when reproving them.7  Instead, he spoke of their mutual sharing (koinonia) in the gospel (1:5).  He spoke with them of his situation in prison and how he faced possible death (vv. 20-25).  He requested their prayers for himself (v. 19).  All of this reflected a deep affection, a mutual acceptance, and a genuine friendship between them. 

Later in the letter Paul presented two models of friendship.  The first was Timothy.  Like any good friend, Timothy shared with Paul a genuine concern for the Philippians, a concern that surpassed that for his own affairs.  Ultimately, Timothy’s concern was for the things of Christ (2:19-23).  The second model was Epaphroditus.  Probably a Philippian himself, he had brought Paul a gift from the Philippi church.  In so doing, Epaphroditus had become sick.  Paul knew they had heard of his illness, so he was eager for them to learn of his recovery (vv. 25-30).  Paul probably sent the Philippian letter to them through Epaphroditus.  The entire incident illustrated the strong bonds between the Philippian congregation, Epaphroditus, and Paul.

Self-Sacrificing—The Greco-Roman writers often maintained the true friends were those willing even to die for one another.8  Writing to the Philippians, Paul referred to the possibility of his dying (1:20-26; 2:17).  Philippians 1:23-25 is particularly instructive.  In pondering the possibility of his death, Paul indicated that ultimately he preferred death, for that meant being with Christ (v. 23).  On the other hand, his remaining alive would better serve the Philippians (v. 24).  In this instance Paul’s friendship would  be enhanced not by dying for them but by living in continued service to them.  In Philippians, however, the perfect example of someone dying for His friends is Jesus’ death on the cross (2:8).

Like-minded—Paul gave particular attention in the Philippian letter to the need for greater unity within the congregation.  Early in the letter he urged his recipients to “stand in one spirit” and to be “of one mind” as they struggled for the faith of the gospel (1:27).  He returned to the same issue toward the end of the letter when he singled out two prominent women in the congregation, asking them to “have the same mind,” to come to an agreement in the Lord (4:2-3).  His fullest treatment of the issue was in chapter 2, where he urged the Philippians to think alike, love alike, have a single mind-set, abandon all self-centered ambition, and consider others as being more important than themselves (2:2-3).  Writers on friendship in Paul’s day would have agreed with Paul that true friends think alike and consider each other as equals.  But Paul went a step further in urging the Philippians to look after the needs of their fellow Christians before even considering their own (v. 4).  Paul turned to Christ as the supreme example of this sort of self-denial—by means of His death on the cross (vv. 5-11).  That was the single-minded, self-sacrificial love that they were to follow.

Correctable—Paul never “commanded” the Philippians in his effort to correct them.  He was gentle in his rebuke.  As here, he did not condemn them for their lack of unity.  Instead, he corrected them by appealing to the example of Christ.  In this manner he exemplified the sort of reproof held in high esteem by the Greco-Roman writers.  Good friends, they would say, do not shrink from correcting each other, and a good friend does not resent or refuse such correction.9 

Comforting—The importance of offering comfort was evident even when Paul mentioned in chapter 3 the problem of his opponents.  Good friends take seriously one another’s troubles and oppositions.  The Philippians themselves were facing opposition, and as their friend, Paul attempted to comfort them by reminding them of the ultimate assurance that God had given them through their faith in Jesus (1:28).  Likewise, Paul had encountered opposition in his ministry.  Even during his time in prison, some opposed him by preaching Christ with selfish motives (vv. 15-18).  Others preached a gospel different from Paul’s, a message based on law rather than on God’s grace (3:2-11), or a gospel rooted in fleshly desire rather than the cross of Christ (vv. 17-21).  Evidently these perversions of the true gospel had not yet reached Philippi, but Paul had experienced their bad influence in other congregations.  As a true Christian friend Paul did not wish these false messages to reach an unprepared Philippian congregation.

Thankful—Paul wrote to the Philippians in large part to thank them for their recent gift.  It occupies much of the letter.  Paul described it as a “sharing” (koinonia) in the gospel (1:5).  In two places, he mentioned Epaphroditus, who had brought him their gift (2:25-30; 4:18).  Paul concluded the letter with a major treatment of the gift (4:10-20).  It filled him with joy (v. 10).  They did well by their sharing with him in his time of trouble (v. 14).  He reminded the Philippian believers how they had often supported him in his missionary work even as other churches had failed to do so (vv. 15-16).  In the Greco-Roman friendship discussion, sharing one another’s goods was a hallmark of true friendship.  It was surely a key to the strong bond Paul felt with the Philippians.  It expressed more than their friendship with Paul, however.  As he expressed it himself, it was not so much a gift to him.  Much more, it “abounded to their account” (v. 17, writer’s translation), because it was a sharing in the gospel.

The ultimate bond in Christian friendship is not only one we have with one another, but our bond with our Friend, Christ, and our sharing in His gospel.  The key to true Christian friends is our mutual friendship both with and through Christ.                                      

1.  Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 8, in vol. 19 of Aristotle in 23 Volumes, trans. Rackham, Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1934), 451-515.

2.  Plato, Symposium, in vol. 3 of Plato, trans. Lamb, Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1925), 74-245.

3.  Cicero, De Amicitia, in vol. 20 of Cicero, trans. Falconer, Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1923), 103-211.

4.  Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 8.3.1-7 in Leob, 457-63.

5.  Keener, “Friendship” in Dictionary of New Testament Background, ed. Evans and Porter (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 382-84.

6.  Stahlin, (philos, friend) in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, ed. Friedrich, trans. and ed. Bromiley, vol. 11 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974), 156.

7.  Fee, Paul Letter to the Philippians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 6.

8.  Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 9.8.9 in Loeb, 555.

9.  Cicero, De Amicitia 24 (88-89) in Loeb, 197.

SOURCE: Biblical Illustrator; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN 37234; Winter  2016-17.




(22.137) What is the Answer To & Where in The Bible is This Week’s Trivia Question Found: What priest had a son named Ichabod, a name meaning “the glory has departed”?  Answer Next Week:

Last Week’s Question:  What two gluttonous priests were notorious for keeping the sacrificial meat for themselves? Answer: Hophni and Phinehas; 1 Samuel 1:3; 2:12-17.