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Dominant Themes of the Epistle to the Philippians

Study notes ▪ 1995
Tags: Philippians; Joy; Attitude; Fellowship; Gospel; Day of the Lord
Related Resources: A Survey of Philippians“Get Involved in the Gospel!”


Joy

The predominant theme of the epistle to the Philippians is joy. Forms of the words joy, rejoice, and gladness appear in 15 of the letter’s 104 verses. In general, joy is described as the product of a healthy relationship between a church and a minister. The minister remembers the church with joy in his prayers (1.4); indeed, the subjects of his ministry are his “joy and crown” (4.1). He rejoices in the furtherance of the gospel (1.18), and his greatest aspiration is to enter Christ’s presence knowing that his earthly efforts have been fruitful (2.16). To this end he is willing to lay down his life as an offering (2.17-18). In the remainder of his earthly course, he is joyous for the willing financial support provided by those to whom he has ministered (4.10). In addition, his joy is made full by the spirit of unity of the people (2.2).

The minister derives joy from his ministry. But he is not alone in his gladness. The minister’s people rejoice when he is present with them (1.26; 2.28-29). And his willingness to sacrifice his life in the interest of their service is also a source of joy to them (2.17-18).

The continual experience of joy is commanded in the epistle: “Rejoice in the Lord alway . . .” (4.4; cf. 3.1). It is, therefore, viewed as the spiritual norm for the believer. As has been noted above, various realities motivate the minister and the church to joy. The epistle makes it clear, however, that joy can only be known in the context of one’s relationship with the Lord: “. . . we . . . rejoice in Christ Jesus . . .” (3.3; cf. 1.26; 3.1; 4.4, 10).

Phlp 1.4    Always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy,

Phlp1.18    What then? notwithstanding, every way, whether in pretence, or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice.

Phlp 1.25    And having this confidence, I know that I shall abide and continue with you all for your furtherance and joy of faith;

Phlp 1.26    That your rejoicing may be more abundant in Jesus Christ for me by my coming to you again.

Phlp 2.2   Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.

Phlp 2.16   Holding forth the word of life; that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither laboured in vain.

Phlp 2.17   Yea, and if I be offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy, and rejoice with you all.

Phlp 2.18   For the same cause also do ye joy, and rejoice with me.

Phlp 2.28   I sent him therefore the more carefully, that, when ye see him again, ye may rejoice, and that I may be the less sorrowful.

Phlp 2.29   Receive him therefore in the Lord with all gladness; and hold such in reputation:

Phlp 3.1   Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you, to me indeed is not grievous, but for you it is safe.

Phlp 3.3   For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.

Phlp 4.1   Therefore, my brethren dearly beloved and longed for, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, my dearly beloved.

Phlp 4.4   Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice.

Phlp 4.10   But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at the last your care of me hath flourished again; wherein ye were also careful, but ye lacked opportunity.

Mentality

A second recurring theme of Philippians is that of attitude or mentality. The epistle instructs the believer concerning his inner life—the world of his feelings, thoughts, and dispositions. The book being, in actuality, a letter addressed to a local church, it is not surprising that the attitude most emphatically enjoined is that of unity. Unity is often expressed in the epistle by the Greek phrase to auto phronein, meaning, literally, to feel or think the same thing: “Nevertheless, whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing” (3.16; cf. 2.2; 4.2). Unity is specifically enjoined in the realms of evangelism (1.27) and love (2.2). The attitude of unity is perhaps best summed up in these words: “Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind” (2.2).

Other attitudes that are commanded in the epistle are those of humility (2.3-5), growth (3.13-15), and excellence (4.8; cf. 1.10). These positive attitudes are contrasted with the negative attitude of worldliness, so characteristic of the enemies of the cross (3.18-19).

Phlp 1.27    Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ: that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel;

Phlp 2.2    Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.

Phlp 2.3    Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.

Phlp 2.5    Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:

Phlp 3.15    Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you.

Phlp 3.16    Nevertheless, whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing.

Phlp 3.19    Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.)

Phlp 4.2    I beseech Euodias, and beseech Syntyche, that they be of the same mind in the Lord.

Phlp 4.8    Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if then be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

Fellowship

A third (and less prominent) theme of the epistle is that of fellowship. The word fellowship in the KJV is so rendered from the Greek koinonia. Koinonia, according to Thayer, includes the following shades of meaning: fellowship, association, community, communion, joint participation, intercourse.1 It speaks of things shared, of community involvement.

The epistle refers to three types of fellowship. First, the Philippian believers were joint participants in the gospel (1.5). This meant that they had common responsibilities to the gospel. (For a further development of this topic, see the heading “The Gospel” in this article.) Second, Paul made reference to the “fellowship of the Spirit” (2.1), denoting those experiences shared by all believers by virtue of their relationship to the Holy Spirit. Third, Paul stated that one of his personal purposes in life was to know “the fellowship of his sufferings” (3.10). In other words, he wanted to conduct his life in such a way as to participate in Christ’s sufferings.

Thus all believers share in the responsibilities and privileges of the gospel. They are indwelled by the same Holy Spirit, who produces within them common spiritual experiences; this is a basis for Christian unity. Finally, they can know Christ to the point of sharing in his sufferings.

Phlp 1.5    For your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now;

Phlp 2.1    If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies,

Phlp 3.10    That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death;

The Gospel

The book of Philippians undertakes by no means to define what the gospel is. Rather, it sets out to describe some of its practical implications. A primary feature of the gospel—as set forth in Philippians—is that it demands the shared participation of all believers. Paul said of the Philippians, “. . . ye all are partakers of my grace” (1.7); the context shows he was referring to their partnership in the gospel. Thus he could speak of their mutual “fellowship in the gospel” (1.5). Paul furthermore acknowledged specific people who had participated in the gospel with him; his co-laborers included Timothy, an unidentified “yokefellow,” certain Philippian women (cf. Acts 16.13ff), Clement, Epaphroditus, and others too numerous to name in the epistle (2.22, 25; 4.3).

A second feature of the gospel is that it imposes certain responsibilities on the believer. Three of these duties are set forth in the letter. First, the Christian is to protect the gospel; he is to defend it and affirm its credibility (1.7, 17). Second, he is to propagate the gospel; his actions are to be conducive to “the furtherance of the gospel” (1.12). Third, he is to practice the gospel; he is to live a life that is consistent with the truths of the gospel (1.27).2 In summary, every Christian is to protect, propagate, and practice the gospel.

Phlp 1.5    For your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now;

Phlp 1.7    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.

Phlp 1.12    But l would ye should understand, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel;

Phlp 1.17    But the other of love, knowing that I am set for the defence of the gospel.

Phlp 1.27    Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ: that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel;

Phlp 2.22    But ye know the proof of him, that, as a son with the father, he hath served with me in the gospel.

Phlp 4.3    And I intreat thee also, true yokefellow, help those women which laboured with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and with other my fellowlabourers, whose names are in the book of life.

The Day of Christ

Philippians makes mention three times of “the day of Christ” or “the day of Jesus Christ.” This is significant in light of the fact that these phrases occur only four times in the entire New Testament, the fourth occurrence being found in 2 Thess 2.2. The day of Christ is, according to Paul's writings, a sort of “eschatological deadline”—a point of time in the future when various aspects of present reality will undergo substantial changes.

First, the day of Christ is a deadline for spiritual growth. Phlp 1.6 says that “he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” Christian growth, as we now know it, will one day cease. Second, the day of Christ is a deadline for spiritual warfare. It is God’s purpose that we strive to be “sincere and without offence till the day of Christ” (1.10). But the present struggle against sin will one day be no more. Third, the day of Christ is a deadline for spiritual service. Paul’s aspiration was expressed in these words: “. . . that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither laboured in vain” (2.16). Opportunities for service to God will one day come to an end.

Paul understood well the fact that present reality is not identical to future reality. He knew that there was coming a time when the present spiritual activities of the believer would cease. His teaching concerning the day of Christ was an urgent motivation to spiritual growth, warfare, and service.

Phlp 1.6    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:

Phlp 1.10    That ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ;

Phlp 2.16    Holding forth the word of life; that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither laboured in vain.


1 The new Thayer’s Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: with index. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, c1981, p 352.
2 The practice of the gospel demands, according to 1.27, the unity of the local body of believers. The gospel is the source of the church’s unity in two ways: first, its claims serve as the basis for believers’ common experience of salvation; second, its propagation is the believers’ common responsibility.


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Study notes (5 pages)   126k v. 1 Feb 24, 2013, 11:38 AM Greg Smith
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