Philippians 1:1-30

Paul identified himself as the writer of this letter to the Philippians. He mentioned Timothy as his fellow servant of Jesus Christ, for Timothy had earlier labored with him in Philippi. As slaves of Jesus Christ, Paul and Timothy had the inestimable honor of being in his service, advancing his interests. (1:1)

Paul addressed his letter to all the “holy ones in Christ Jesus who are in Phillipi.” As members of Christ’s body, believers were at one with him. Having been forgiven of their sins, they were holy or pure from God’s standpoint as they sought to be guided by his spirit to live upright lives. Among the “holy ones” were “overseers” or superintendents, men who were entrusted with the responsibility to look after the spiritual interests of fellow believers, and “servants” who cared for the needy. (1:1; compare Acts 6:1-4; 20:28.)

As in other letters, Paul included the prayerful expression, “Favor to you and peace from God our Father and [the] Lord Jesus Christ.” “Favor,” unmerited kindness, or grace would include all the aid and guidance the Father and his Son would provide. For believers to enjoy the peace of which God and Christ are the source would mean their being in possession of inner tranquility, knowing that as beloved children of God and brothers of Christ they would be sustained and strengthened in times of trial and distress. (1:2)

Whenever Paul remembered the Philippian believers, he was moved to thank God, always doing so for them individually in every supplication of his. His gratitude was prompted by what the Most High had done for them and how they had responded to the evangel. The apostle’s intense prayers included every one of the believers in Philippi, reflecting his personal care and concern for each of them. Joy accompanied his supplication or fervent prayer, as his diligent labors among the Philippians had produced good results. From the first day until the very time Paul wrote this letter, the Philippians had been sharers in the advancement of the evangel. (1:3-5) Immediately, after her baptism, Lydia insisted on having Paul and his companions stay in her home and framed the invitation in a manner they could not refuse. “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord,” she said, “come into my house and stay.” (Acts 16:15) This genuine offer of hospitality would have enabled Paul and his companions to devote themselves fully to sharing the glad tidings about Christ and focusing on the spiritual needs of fellow believers. On other occasions, the Philippians sent aid to him while he was proclaiming the evangel elsewhere and, upon receiving news about his imprisonment, sent Epaphroditus to minister to his needs. (2:25; 4:14-16) At the time Paul wrote his letter, Epaphroditus was still with him.

The apostle had confidence that the Father, who had begun the “good work” in the Philippians, would complete it. In the “day of Jesus Christ,” they would stand as approved, fully tested servants of the Most High and possessors of genuine faith. Although Paul did not specifically identify God as the one who began the good work, other passages do indicate this. Jesus said that only those whom the Father would draw could come to him. (John 6:44) God is the one who, by means of his spirit, imparts a newness of life to believers and makes continual growth possible. (John 1:12, 13; 1 Corinthians 3:6, 7) Paul had no doubt that, in the “day of Jesus Christ,” or at the time of his return in glory, God’s work in the Philippians would be revealed as having been completed. (1:6)

He felt that it was only right for him to think so positively about all of the Philippian believers because he had them in his “heart” or was affectionately attached to them because of the commendable spirit they had manifested. As a spirit-filled apostle, Paul recognized God’s working within the Philippian believers and knew them to be beloved fellow children of God. That is why he deeply loved them. In his bonds and in the defense and confirmation of the evangel, they were sharers with him in the favor, unmerited kindness, or grace of God. (1:7) Paul’s reference to divine favor may here specifically relate to his having been called to be an apostle and entrusted with the evangel or the glad tidings about Jesus Christ. In coming to his aid during the time of his confinement, the Philippian believers proved themselves to be sharers in his bonds, sympathizing with him as if bound with him. (Compare Hebrews 10:34; 13:3.) They were also participants in his defense and confirmation of the evangel, as their aid demonstrated their support of and cooperation with Paul in his defending the message about Jesus Christ against false accusations and confirming its validity. (Compare Paul’s defense before Felix, Festus, and Agrippa [Acts 24:10-21; 25:8; 26:1-29]. Note that a major part of his defense consisted in presenting proof respecting the truth of the evangel.)

Paul called upon God as his witness respecting the longing he had to see all of the Philippian believers “in the affection [literally, bowels, apparently from the standpoint of the effect deep emotions have and thus denoting tender feelings or affection] of Christ Jesus.” The apostle’s love for the Philippians was like that of God’s Son, and this deep love for them prompted his yearning to see them. (1:8)

Paul prayed that the love of the Philippians might abound more and more “in knowledge and all perception.” This appears to mean that their ever-increasing love would be guided by knowledge and perception, making it possible for them to direct their love in the best or noblest way. With a fullness of knowledge as a stabilizing factor, their love would then not blindly attach itself to anyone and anything. Discernment would enable them to avoid wasting or misdirecting their love. (1:9)

In possession of knowledge and discernment, they would be able to perceive differences, recognizing who should rightly be the objects of their love and to what degree. Love for God and Christ would take priority over any other love. An ever-expanding, rightly motivated, properly directed love would result in their being pure and blameless at Christ’s return in glory or in his “day.” They would be filled with the “fruit of righteousness that [is] through Jesus Christ for God’s glory and praise.” The “fruit of righteousness” could include laudable conduct, aid rendered to those in need, and participation in advancing the evangel. Through oneness with Christ, they would be able to bear this desirable fruit (John 15:5, 8), and God would be glorified or exalted and praised on the basis of their commendable words and deeds. (1:10, 11)

The Philippian believers, his brothers in Christ, may have thought that Paul’s imprisonment interfered with the spread of the message about God’s Son. The apostle wanted them to know that this was not the case. Instead of his confinement presenting an obstacle, it had contributed to the advancement of the evangel. “In the whole praetorium and to all the rest,” it had been manifest or come to be well known that his bonds were “in Christ” or that he was suffering because of being Christ’s disciple. It seems likely that the “praetorium” designates the praetorian or imperial guard in Rome. According to Acts 28:16, a soldier guarded Paul. As different soldiers would have guard duty, they would have learned about the reason for the apostle’s confinement, and word would have spread throughout the praetorian guard about him. Talk was not limited to the guard. “All the rest,” or others besides the Roman soldiers, learned about Paul and the reason for his confinement. (1:12, 13)

As far as most of the brothers or fellow believers were concerned, Paul’s bonds or his faithful endurance of confinement for Christ’s name had greatly emboldened them to speak God’s word or the message about Christ fearlessly. (See the Notes section regarding the words “in [the] Lord.”) Not all, however, were rightly motivated. Certain ones were envious of Paul and manifested a spirit of rivalry. They may have wanted to exalt themselves and advance their own cause. (Compare 2 Corinthians 11:4, 5; Galatians 6:12, 13.) Others, however, proclaimed Christ out of “good will,” or they were kindly disposed toward the apostle. They wanted to see the cause of Christ advanced despite Paul’s being in confinement. Their preaching of Christ was rightly motivated, “out of love.” Their objective was pure, wanting others to accept Christ as Lord and to be reconciled to the Father through him. They recognized that Paul was in prison for a noble reason—“for the defense of the evangel.” This could mean that the confinement provided him with an opportunity to defend the evangel against false charges (1:7; compare Acts 9:15; 23:11; 27:24) or that he found himself in bonds because he had defended (and continued to defend) the glad tidings about Jesus Christ. (1:14-16; see the Notes section.)

The others were preaching Christ with a contentious or quarrelsome spirit. According to another significance of the Greek word eritheía, selfishness or selfish ambition motivated them. They lacked purity or sincerity. Mean-spirited, they thought to cause distress for Paul while he found himself in bonds. In seeking to undermine and demean Paul’s labors, they would have revealed themselves to be persons intent on adding to the burden he was under while in confinement. (1:17)

The apostle, however, did not let wrongly motivated ones discourage him. Whether individuals preached for a pretext or mere appearances or they did so in truth or sincerity, Christ was still being made known. The fact that the message about Christ was being proclaimed brought joy to Paul, and he determined to continue rejoicing. The apostle recognized that the wrongly motivated messenger did not change the right message, and those responding to the message in faith would not, at the same time, have to adopt the spirit of the wrongly motivated messenger. (1:18)

If the introductory phrase (“for I know that this”) is to be linked with the previous verse, the meaning would be as follows: Because he maintained his joy that Christ was being made known, coupled with the fervent prayers of the Philippians and the “support of the spirit of Jesus Christ,” Paul knew or had the assurance of his “salvation” or “deliverance.” The apostle thus acknowledged the importance of his fellow believers’ supplications for him. He also recognized the need for the support or assistance of the “spirit of Jesus Christ.” From the standpoint of Christ’s role in making the spirit available to believers, the reference may be to the holy spirit. (Compare Acts 2:33.) There is also the possibility that “the spirit of Jesus Christ” denotes the spirit or disposition God’s Son manifested when undergoing suffering. (Compare 1 Peter 2:21, 22.) In this case, “salvation” or “deliverance” could mean that Paul expected to be set free or that his experience would contribute to his final salvation. In the Septuagint, the identical words are found in Job 13:16 (toutó moi apobésetai eis soterían [this to turn out for salvation to me], with “salvation” (sotería) having the sense of “deliverance.” In view of Paul’s mentioning the possibility of death as an outcome in the next verse, however, he may have been referring to his final salvation. On the other hand, he was convinced that it was needful for him to continue living to aid the Philippian believers and so may have meant that he would be set free. (1:19; see the Notes section for additional comments.)

The apostle eagerly expected and hoped that he would not experience shame in any way but that he would then, as always, boldly or courageously, whether by his life or by his death, magnify Christ in his body. Paul desired to bring honor to God’s Son, courageously making known the message about him and exalting him by the way he used his body. Whether Paul continued to live or had his life cut short, he was chiefly concerned about how his conduct reflected on God’s Son. Paul earnestly desired that his life would continue to manifest a Christlike spirit and that his facing death would be with a Christlike spirit, revealing to others the inestimable value of being a disciple of God’s beloved Son. (1:20)

Apart from Christ, Paul did not regard himself as truly living. He directed all his efforts to please the Lord Jesus Christ, the one who had died for him. Christ proved to be Paul’s very life. For the apostle, death would have been gain, as a death in faithfulness would assure him of being united with his Lord whom he deeply loved. (1:21)

If he were to continue living, there would be fruit from his labor. His life would serve a good purpose, and he would use it in advancing Christ’s cause. Still, he did not know whether to choose life or the gain that dying as a faithful servant of Christ would bring. He felt torn between whether it would be more desirable to continue living or to complete his earthly sojourn. What he really wanted is to depart and to be with Christ, enjoying fellowship with him in the sinless state. Being with Christ would be far better than continuing to live in the flesh. (1:22, 23)

For the sake of his beloved fellow believers in Philippi, however, Paul realized that his continuing to live would be better and, in fact, more essential, as he would still be in a position to assist them spiritually in a personal way. Convinced that he still needed to serve the Philippians, he firmly believed that he would not be executed but would continue to enjoy personal association with all of them and aid them in their spiritual progress. His remaining alive would also contribute to their “joy of faith.” This would be a joy stemming from faith. The Philippians had faith in the help of the Lord Jesus Christ and that of his Father, and they persevered in prayer for Paul, earnestly desiring that he be set free. As the Son of God, the head of the body of believers, would be involved in effecting the apostle’s release, their faith in him would result in joy. Therefore, “in Christ Jesus,” by reason of what he had done for Paul, making it possible for him to be with them again, the Philippians would be jubilant with unbounded joy. (1:24-26)

At this point in his letter, the apostle focused specifically on the Philippians, admonishing them to maintain conduct worthy of the evangel of Christ and thus of Christ himself. The Greek verb politeúomai for “conduct” has the literal sense of acting as a citizen. As possessors of heavenly citizenship, their conduct should harmonize with their dignified standing and reflect favorably on the glad tidings about Christ. Their conduct should be a credit to his name. By maintaining laudable conduct, the Philippians would retain a good reputation. So, whether with them personally or away from them, Paul would hear that they were “standing firm in one spirit, striving with one soul for the faith of the evangel.” The expression “standing firm in one spirit” may denote being solidly fixed as a body of believers in intent, purpose, or the motivating or energizing force at work within them. As with one soul (“with one mind,” according to numerous translations), a complete unity or oneness, they should be “striving side by side” for the faith to which the evangel gave rise or for which it was responsible. Unitedly, the Philippians would be advancing and upholding the cause of Christ. (1:27)

Their doing so would not be without intense opposition from persons persisting in unbelief. Therefore, Paul encouraged them not to allow their opponents to frighten or intimidate them in any way. Opposers might heap abuse upon them, violently attack them, or in other ways cause them to suffer. By continuing to persecute the Philippian believers, the enemies of Christ gave evidence that they were headed for destruction. If they continued in this course, these opponents could not hope to be spared from divine wrath. (1:28)

At the same time, the persecution opposers launched against them provided proof of salvation for the Philippian believers, and Paul added, “and this [is] from God.” (1:28) The Philippians had endured faithfully under suffering, and they had Christ’s assurance, “the one who endures to the end will be saved.” (Matthew 24:13) Their being abused and persecuted for the name of Christ proved that they were friends of God and of his Son. They were no part of the world alienated from God and, therefore, no friends of the world. If they had been friends of the world, they would not have suffered at the hands of those alienated from God and they themselves would have been God’s enemies. Accordingly, the suffering that befell them and their faithful endurance constituted a token from God of their standing as his beloved children, assuring them of salvation. (John 15:18-21; Hebrews 12:3-11; James 4:4)

As believers, the Philippians had not only been favored to believe in Christ but also to suffer for him. (1:29) To believe in Christ, to come to enjoy the relationship with him and his Father that faith in him makes possible, is an incomparable favor. Throughout the centuries, people have considered it an honor to be in the service of a ruler, a king, or a queen. The Lord Jesus Christ, the King of kings and Lord of Lords, has far greater authority and dignity than any human ruler or all rulers combined possessed or ever will possess. No greater honor could anyone have than to be in the service of the Lord Jesus Christ and to suffer for him, and he considers any suffering his faithful disciples experience as his suffering. (Compare Matthew 25:34-45.)

The “struggle” the Philippian believers were experiencing in the form of opposition and persecution was the same “struggle” Paul had faced in Philippi and which they had witnessed. He (along with Silas) was falsely accused and unjustly beaten and jailed. As the Philippians heard more recently, Paul continued to experience this struggle for advancing the cause of Christ, for he was then in confinement. (1:30)


The phrase “in [the] Lord” (1:14) could apply to “brothers” (“brothers in the Lord”). Elsewhere in this letter, however, Paul used the expression “brothers” by itself, and this suggests that “in the Lord” may be linked to the participle that follows (pepoithótas, meaning “having confidence”). Translations reflect both ways of understanding the expression “in the Lord.” “Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.” (NIV) “Now most of the Lord’s followers have become brave and are fearlessly telling the message.” (CEV) “Most of the brothers and sisters, having been made confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, dare to speak the word with greater boldness and without fear.” (NRSV) “The majority of the brothers, having taken encouragement in the Lord from my imprisonment, dare more than ever to proclaim the word fearlessly.” (NAB)

In verse 14, manuscript readings include “speak the word,” “speak the word of the Lord,” and “speak the word of God.”

Translations differ considerably in the way verse 19 is rendered, with some preserving the basic word order of the Greek text and others changing the word order and adding interpretive elements. Numerous translators have chosen to make the reference to “salvation” to mean being set free. The following are examples of various renderings of the concluding part of verse 18 and verse 19: “Indeed I shall continue to rejoice, for I know that this will result in deliverance for me through your prayers and support from the Spirit of Jesus Christ.” (NAB) “Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance.” (NRSV) “Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help given by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance.” (NIV) “And I will continue to be happy, because I know that by means of your prayers and the help which comes from the Spirit of Jesus Christ I shall be set free.” (GNT, Second Edition) “So I am happy, and I will continue to be happy. Because you are praying for me and the Spirit of Jesus Christ is helping me, I know this trouble will bring my freedom.” (NCV) “And I will continue to rejoice. For I know that as you pray for me and as the Spirit of Jesus Christ helps me, this will all turn out for my deliverance.” (NLT)