“Introduction to the Epistle of Paul to the Philippians,” New Testament Seminary Teacher Manual (2016)
“Philippians,” New Testament Seminary Teacher Manual
In his Epistle to the Philippians, Paul gave the Saints in Philippi encouragement and exhorted them to stand fast in unity and work together to defend the faith. Perhaps one of the most important principles Paul taught in Philippians is that praying to God and trusting in Him brings “the peace of God, which passeth all understanding” (Philippians 4:7). Studying Paul’s messages of encouragement in this epistle can help students in their efforts to endure to the end faithfully. As students strive to follow Christ, they too can gain confidence and, like Paul, declare, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Philippians 4:13).
Although Timothy is mentioned along with Paul in the epistle’s greeting (see Philippians 1:1), Paul wrote the Epistle to the Philippians. This is supported by the use of the singular pronoun I throughout the letter and the reference to Timothy in Philippians 2:19. Timothy may have acted as Paul’s scribe, writing the letter under Paul’s direction.
Paul likely wrote Philippians sometime between A.D. 60 and 62, while he was imprisoned in Rome (see Philippians 1:7, 13, 17; see also Acts 28:16–31; Guide to the Scriptures, “Philippians, Epistle to,” scriptures.lds.org).
Philippi was the first place in Europe where Paul formally preached the gospel and established a branch of the Church (see Acts 16:11–40; Bible Dictionary, “Pauline Epistles”). One of Paul’s purposes in writing this letter was to express gratitude for the affection and financial assistance the Saints in Philippi had extended to him during his second missionary journey and his imprisonment in Rome (see Philippians 1:3–11; 4:10–19; see also Bible Dictionary, “Pauline Epistles”).
Paul also praised the members in Philippi for their faith in Jesus Christ and gave them counsel based on information about them that he had received from a Philippian disciple named Epaphroditus (see Philippians 4:18). Paul’s counsel included encouragement to be humble and united (see Philippians 2:1–18; 4:2–3). Paul also warned the Philippians to beware of corrupt Christians, such as those who taught that circumcision was necessary for conversion. Such individuals (often referred to as Judaizers) falsely claimed that new converts had to submit to the former Old Testament law of circumcision before becoming Christian (see Philippians 3:2–3).
Philippians is often called a prison Epistle, along with Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon. Despite being written from prison, Paul’s letter to the Philippians has been described by scholars as the happiest of his writings. Paul expressed gratitude, love, and confidence to Church members; described sacrifices he had made to follow Jesus Christ; and instructed the Philippian Saints in principles of righteous living. Students may recognize in Philippians 4:8 some of the language used in the thirteenth article of faith, which was penned by the Prophet Joseph Smith.
Paul poetically depicted the Savior’s condescension from premortal divinity to mortal life, where He suffered “death of the cross” (see Philippians 2:3–8). Having fulfilled His divine mission, Jesus Christ now stands exalted, and the day will come when “every knee should bow” before Him and “every tongue … confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Philippians 2:10–11). Paul revealed that his inner source of confidence and strength came from Jesus Christ (see Philippians 4:13).
Philippians 1 Paul expresses gratitude for the fellowship of the Philippian Saints. He teaches that the opposition he had experienced in serving the Lord, including his imprisonment, had furthered the gospel cause. He encourages Church members to stand fast in unity in defending the faith.
Philippians 2 Paul further encourages Church members to be united and points to the example of Jesus Christ, who condescended to come into mortality, as an example of love, obedience, and humility. Everyone will one day acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord. Paul instructs Church members to work out their own salvation.
Philippians 3 Paul warns of Judaizers. He describes his earlier life as a Pharisee and how he willingly gave up all to follow Jesus Christ. He exhorts the Saints to follow his example in pressing forward toward salvation. Paul explains that Jesus Christ will change our mortal bodies into glorious bodies like His.
Philippians 4 Paul encourages the Saints to always rejoice in the Lord. He exhorts them to replace their anxiety with prayer and thanksgiving, promising that they will enjoy the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding. Paul admonishes Church members to think on things that are honest, just, true, pure, lovely, of good report, and virtuous. He acknowledges that he can do all things through Jesus Christ, who strengthens him.