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Paul’s Letter to the Philippians

Ancient Philippi, ruins of Basilica B, Christopher Steinle, CC Attribution.
Ancient Philippi, ruins of Basilica B, Christopher Steinle, CC Attribution.

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Introduction to Philippians

When Paul eventually reached Rome, instead of being thrust into a prison cell, he was placed under “house arrest”; and this form of imprisonment continued for about two years. During this period, Paul also wrote several outstanding epistles. Four of these have been preserved, and they now form part of our New Testament. Possibly Paul wrote several other epistles but the four which remain are the Epistle to the Ephesians; the Epistle to the Philippians; the Epistle to the Colossians; and the Epistle to Philemon. These are usually termed “Paul’s Epistles of the Imprisonment,” since they are regarded as having been written by the apostle during the period of his imprisonment at Rome.

It will be noticed that these Epistles of the Imprisonment differ considerably from the earlier letters of Paul. These differences are discernible even from a casual reading. The style of writing differs to a marked degree, and several points of Christian doctrine are presented in an entirely different manner. Because of these differences, several New Testament commentators have ventured to question the Pauline authorship of the Epistles of the Imprisonment.

Now, while it is not the purpose of these lessons to enter into controversy of this sort, one very important point should be emphasized here—for this furnishes the key to the situation. When studying Paul’s writings, we should always take into account the apostle’s spiritual development. Unfortunately Paul’s Epistles are not given in chronological order in the New Testament, but are arranged according to size, or supposed importance. When these Epistles are placed in proper chronological sequence the various stages of Paul’s spiritual progress are clearly revealed.

Thus in the earlier Epistles (Thessalonians, Galatians, Corinthians, Romans) we trace the progress of the enthusiastic convert and untiring missionary. Then came Paul’s arrest and imprisonment at Jerusalem and Caesarea, which brought about a period of compulsory inactivity. Paul could no longer travel from place to place, nor could he engage in strenuous religious controversies. However, this period also furnished Paul with ample time and opportunity to “be still, and know,” and to make fresh contact with his Lord; and all this, in turn, led the apostle into a deeper spiritual experience—such as was not possible during his missionary activities. Indeed, it would seem that during this period Paul experienced what has been termed his “second conversion.” The first conversion, at Damascus, was followed by Paul’s extensive missionary activities; this second conversion led the apostle into a deeper understanding of the teaching of Jesus Christ. Paul was literally trans- formed by the renewing of his mind.

Purpose of the Epistle: The Epistle to the Philippians may be regarded as a somewhat elaborate “thank you” letter. It would appear that when the news regarding Paul’s imprisonment at Rome reached Philippi, Lydia and her associates immediately decided to send a gift to the apostle. This was not the first time for the Philippians to act in this helpful way; they ministered to Paul’s needs when he was at Thessalonica, and other places. (See Phil. 4:14-16.) This gift—probably consisting of money, food, and other helpful articles—was placed in the hands of a trustworthy convert named Epaphroditus; and he then journeyed to Rome. Paul was deeply touched when the gift arrived, and his heart overflowed with gratitude.

Unfortunately Epaphroditus soon after his arrival at Rome became very sick, and was “near to death” (Phil. 2:7); but through Paul’s strenuous efforts and earnest prayers, he was finally restored. Paul also recognized that Epaphroditus was suffering from “homesickness,” for the Epistle mentions that “he has been longing for you all, and has been distressed” (Phil. 2:26). Thus when Epaphroditus had regained his strength, Paul made arrangements for the messenger’s return to Philippi, sending with him this specially written letter of appreciation and thanksgiving, which we now term “Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians.” It should be noted that this Epistle contains not only Paul’s thanks to Lydia and her fellow-workers, but also some very important teaching—not only applying to the Philippian converts, but also helpful and inspiring to present-day readers.

Introduction to Paul’s Letter to the Philippians by Herbert J. Hunt, former Dean of Bible Studies for the Unity School of Christianity.

Many scholars today believe that both this letter to the Philippians and the letter to Philemon were written when Paul was in prison in Ephesus, after his third missionary journey, perhaps around 52 CE. Both letters refer to the presence of Epaphras and both letters are exceptionally heart-centered in tone. Perhaps no other letter of Paul is more frequently quoted in New Thought churches than this letter to the Philippians. This is for two reasons.

Paul is in chains, but he only sees the positive and good. He writes, “the things which happened to me have turned out rather to the progress of the Good News so that it became evident to the whole praetorian guard, and to all the rest, that my bonds are in Christ” (1:13) and declares that “Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life, or by death” (1:20). Obviously, Paul is expressing zeal, which is the faculty of enthusiasm, intensity and exuberance that provides our inner urge to progress and our our motivation to achieve.

Many verses in Philippians have found their way into New Thought affirmations, such as “I am confident the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion” (1:6), “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus” (2:5), “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (4:6), “The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (4:7), “Whatever is is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (4:8), and “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (4:13). Affirmations are expressions of the faculty of power, which enables us to have authority over our own emotions (feelings), inspirations, and thoughts and to bring forth Divine ideas.

Introduction to Paul's Letter to the Philippians by Rev. Mark Hicks.

Philippians 1

(Online: ASV WEB)


1:1 Paul and Timothy, servants of Jesus Christ;

To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi,1 with the overseers[1] and servants[2]: 1:2 Grace to you, and peace from God, our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.

  1. Philippi was a city in Macedonia where the proconsul or governor of Macedonia lived. It is therefore the center of the executive faculty of that in us signified by Macedonia: burning adoration. It is necessary to stir up this fiery power in the man when he gets into negative states of consciousness. The vision of the man imploring, "Come over into Macedonia, and help us," is the discernment of this inner fervor, which needs stirring up. A certain fiery fervor is necessary in order to establish faith and persistency in barren, weak states of consciousness, such as those suggested by Phrygia, Galatia, and Asia. (cf. Acts 16:6-10.)

Paul’s Prayer for the Philippians1

1:3 I thank my God whenever I remember you, 1:4 always in every request of mine on behalf of you all making my requests with joy, 1:5 for your partnership[3] in furtherance of the Good News from the first day until now; 1:6 being confident of this very thing, that he who began a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ. 1:7 It is even right for me to think this way on behalf of all of you, because I have you in my heart, because, both in my bonds and in the defense and confirmation of the Good News, you all are partakers with me of grace. 1:8 For God is my witness, how I long after all of you in the tender mercies of Christ Jesus.

1:9 This I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and all discernment; 1:10 so that you may approve the things that are excellent; that you may be sincere and without offense to the day of Christ; 1:11 being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.

  1. Paul's purpose is to encourage. Paul (the word of Truth) first commends those who are seeking to live the Christ life and gives thanks for the spiritual progress they have already made. Then he affirms his faith that the good work already begun in them will be perfected, and he encourages them to persevere in it. Finally he gives further instruction as regards the importance of constructive thinking.

Paul’s Present Circumstances

1:12 Now I desire to have you know, brothers,[4] that the things which happened to me have turned out rather to the progress of the Good News; 1:13 so that it became evident to the whole praetorian guard, and to all the rest, that my bonds1 are in Christ; 1:14 and that most of the brothers in the Lord, being confident through my bonds, are more abundantly bold to speak the word of God without fear. 1:15 Some indeed preach Christ even out of envy and strife, and some also out of good will. 1:16 The former insincerely preach Christ from selfish ambition, thinking that they add affliction to my chains; 1:17 but the latter out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the Good News.

1:18 What does it matter? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed. I rejoice in this, yes, and will rejoice. 1:19 For I know that this will turn out to my salvation, through your supplication and the supply of the Spirit2 of Jesus Christ, 1:20 according to my earnest expectation and hope, that I will in no way be disappointed, but with all boldness, as always, now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life, or by death. 1:21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.3 1:22 But if I live on in the flesh, this will bring fruit from my work; yet I don't make known what I will choose. 1:23 But I am in a dilemma between the two, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. 1:24 Yet, to remain in the flesh is more needful for your sake. 1:25 Having this confidence, I know that I will remain, yes, and remain with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, 1:26 that your rejoicing may abound in Christ Jesus in me through my presence with you again.

1:27 Only let your manner of life be worthy of the Good News of Christ, that, whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your state, that you stand firm in one spirit,4 with one soul striving for the faith of the Good News; 1:28 and in nothing frightened by the adversaries, which is for them a proof of destruction, but to you of salvation, and that from God. 1:29 Because it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in him, but also to suffer on his behalf, 1:30 having the same conflict which you saw in me, and now hear is in me.

  1. bonds. The one who notwithstanding his failure to surmount limitations keeps faith in the principles of Truth and courage to persevere in his efforts undiminished, is an example to those in need of courage to follow the Way.
  2. supply of the Spirit. The Spirit of Jesus Christ is infinite and omnipresent, but each one determines for himself the measure of his realization of it through earnest expectation and hope as well as prayer. The prayers of others for him also increase his receptivity to the Christ Spirit provided he is conscious of them and desires the help they bring him.
  3. to live is Christ and to die is gain. To teach Truth by example, as Jesus taught it in His works is truly to live. To heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils, these are some of the greater works always present to be dealt with by man after the Christ method.
  4. stand firm in one spirit. Metaphysically, the exhortation to “stand firm in one spirit, with one soul striving” signifies that the individual is to unify soul and spirit or to harmonize his powers in order to realize the “fulness of Christ.”

Fillmore Study Bible annotations by Mark Hicks.

World English Bible Footnotes:

  • [1] v1:1. or, superintendents, or bishops
  • [2] v1:1. Or, deacons
  • [3] v1:5. The word translated "partnership" (koinonia) also means "fellowship" and "sharing."
  • [4] v1:12. The word for "brothers" here and where context allows may also be correctly translated "brothers and sisters" or "siblings."

Philippians 2

(Online: ASV WEB)

Imitating Christ’s Humility

2:1 If there is therefore any exhortation in Christ, if any consolation of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any tender mercies and compassion, 2:2 make my joy full, by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind; 2:3 doing nothing through rivalry or through conceit, but in humility, each counting others better than himself; 2:4 each of you not just looking to his own things, but each of you also to the things of others.

2:5 Have this in your mind,1 which was also in Christ Jesus, 2:6 who, existing in the form of God, didn't consider equality with God a thing to be grasped, 2:7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men. 2:8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, yes, the death of the cross. 2:9 Therefore God also highly exalted him, and gave to him the name which is above every name; 2:10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,2 of those in heaven, those on earth, and those under the earth, 2:11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,3 to the glory of God the Father.

  1. Have this in your mind. That which we identify with, we become. cf. Rom. 12:2.
  2. every knee should bow. The writer of Philippians follows up the statement that forms today’s Golden Text with the words “That in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven and things on earth and things under the earth.” Metaphysically, the name Jesus represents the “I” in man, the self, the directive power, raised to di vine understanding and power—the I am. It is this I in each man that holds all else in him under its domin ion and power. This high entity controls the working of his mind (“things in heaven”) as well as his emo tions and his overt actions (“things on earth”), and it also has under its direction the subconscious impulses of which the conscious mind is often unaware (“things under the earth”). This high motivating and identifying principle of man “is he that shall save his people from their sins.” Unity 1934-05
  3. Jesus is Lord. Paul's true mission is not just converting Jews or Gentiles, but rather converting all of Rome, for Rome symbolized a world order that could not stand in light of the new world order (of oneness) established by Christ. According to Marcus Borg, when Paul declares that “Jesus is Lord” he is implicitly declaring that “Caesar is not Lord,” neither are the masters of slaves, and that there is no distinction between Jew and Gentile. But all of these, including Caesar, are part of the one reign of Jesus Christ. Borg, Marcus. Reading the Bible Again for the First Time (2001). New York: Harper Collins. See Divine Ideas in Paul's Writings, Bible Interpretation - Acts to Revelation.

Shining as Lights in the World

2:12 So then, my beloved, even as you have always obeyed, not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation1 with fear and trembling. 2:13 For it is God who works in you2 both to will and to work, for his good pleasure. 2:14 Do all things without murmurings and disputes, 2:15 that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you are seen as lights in the world, 2:16 holding up the word of life; that I may have something to boast in the day of Christ, that I didn't run in vain nor labor in vain. 2:17 Yes, and if I am poured out on the sacrifice3 and service of your faith, I rejoice, and rejoice with you all. 2:18 In the same way, you also rejoice, and rejoice with me.

  1. Work out your own salvation. We have been learning how to do the outworking, but have now come to a point where we must learn more of how to place ourselves in an attitude where we can each be conscious of the divine inner working. cf Lessons in Truth Lesson 9, Annotation 10.
  2. God who works in you. The work of regeneration cannot come through the personal self. When we consciously desire to unify ourself with Him, our life is no longer ours but His, and we may rest assured that He will not let us out of His care and keeping. Be Ye Transformed 151.
  3. if I am poured out the sacrifice. If you have a thought of love and good will, you set free invisible emanations that are impregnated with these ideas. ... This is the inner meaning of offering sacrifices to the Lord

Timothy and Epaphroditus

2:19 But I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, that I also may be cheered up when I know how you are doing. 2:20 For I have no one else like-minded, who will truly care about you. 2:21 For they all seek their own, not the things of Jesus Christ.1 2:22 But you know the proof of him, that, as a child serves a father, so he served with me in furtherance of the Good News. 2:23 Therefore I hope to send him at once, as soon as I see how it will go with me. 2:24 But I trust in the Lord that I myself also will come shortly. 2:25 But I counted it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus,2 my brother, fellow worker, fellow soldier, and your apostle and servant of my need; 2:26 since he longed for you all, and was very troubled, because you had heard that he was sick. 2:27 For indeed he was sick, nearly to death, but God had mercy on him; and not on him only, but on me also, that I might not have sorrow on sorrow. 2:28 I have sent him therefore the more diligently, that, when you see him again, you may rejoice, and that I may be the less sorrowful. 2:29 Receive him therefore in the Lord with all joy, and hold such in honor, 2:30 because for the work of Christ he came near to death, risking his life to supply that which was lacking in your service toward me.

  1. not the things of Jesus Christ. Macedonia represents the business mind and Philippi means getting gain, which is the chief motive of business. It is very natural that in this place (state of consciousness) there is "no man likeminded, who will care truly for your state. And so Timothy was sent to the assembly of believers at Philippi. The thoughts wherein love of gain is uppermost need Timothy (inspired reason united with faith) to instruct them concerning spiritual substance and life (the true riches) and their use.
  2. Epaphroditus. A message of love and peace that is sent by the word of Truth (Paul) to the enlightened thoughts of the states of mind that Philippi and Colossæ signify in individual consciousness.

Fillmore Study Bible annotations by Mark Hicks.

Philippians 3

(Online: ASV WEB)

Breaking with the Past

3:1 Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you, to me indeed is not tiresome, but for you it is safe. 3:2 Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision. 3:3 For we are the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh;1 3:4 though I myself might have confidence even in the flesh. If any other man thinks that he has confidence in the flesh, I yet more: 3:5 circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; 3:6 concerning zeal, persecuting the assembly; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, found blameless.

3:7 However, what things were gain to me, these have I counted loss for Christ. 3:8 Yes most certainly, and I count all things to be loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus, my Lord, for whom I suffered the loss of all things, and count them nothing but refuse,2 that I may gain Christ 3:9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own, that which is of the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith;3 3:10 that I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, becoming conformed to his death; 3:11 if by any means I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.

  1. no confidence in the flesh. When we keep the Christ thought foremost in all we think and do, we shall come out victorious.
  2. count them noting but refuse. The apostle warns against those who are trying to bring Gentile converts under the Mosaic Law. At one time he himself had been proud of his Jewish heritage, but now he is willing to put all behind him for a greater goal. Be Ye Transformed 130.
  3. righteousness which is from God by faith. We can have no absolute assurance that we are right, except as we place our faith in divine wisdom and claim its enlightenment in our mind. As we look to this higher wisdom to express itself in and through us and trust it to do so, we find that our understanding becomes clear and that we see what is right in every instance.

Pressing toward the Goal

3:12 Not that I have already obtained, or am already made perfect; but I press on, if it is so that I may take hold of that for which also I was taken hold of by Christ Jesus. 3:13 Brothers, I don't regard myself as yet having taken hold, but one thing I do. Forgetting the things which are behind, and stretching forward to the things which are before, 3:14 I press on toward the goal1 for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. 3:15 Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, think this way. If in anything you think otherwise, God will also reveal that to you. 3:16 Nevertheless, to the extent that we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule. Let us be of the same mind. 3:17 Brothers, be imitators together of me, and note those who walk this way, even as you have us for an example. 3:18 For many walk, of whom I told you often, and now tell you even weeping, as the enemies of the cross of Christ, 3:19 whose end is destruction, whose god is the belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who think about earthly things. 3:20 For our citizenship is in heaven, from where we also wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; 3:21 who will change the body of our humiliation to be conformed to the body of his glory,2 according to the working by which he is able even to subject all things to himself.

  1. I press on toward the goal... A 3-part formula for healing: (1) Letting go of the past (by changing one's thinking), (2) leaning into the problem and (3) press on to the full expression of your Christ nature. See Luke 5:24 and Dealing With Stress Through Spiritual Methods.
  2. conformed to the body of his glory. This all has been interpreted that after we are dead we will go to heaven. But this is all in the Now. Our bodies are now in this heavenly state so the only death of which we have any evidence is the death of the body. Hidden Man of the Bible, lesson 6, page 7

Fillmore Study Bible annotations by Mark Hicks.

Philippians 4

(Online: ASV WEB)


4:1 Therefore, my brothers, beloved and longed for, my joy and crown, so stand firm in the Lord, my beloved. 4:2 I exhort Euodia, and I exhort Syntyche, to think the same way in the Lord. 4:3 Yes, I beg you also, true yokefellow, help these women, for they labored with me in the Good News, with Clement1 also, and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life. 4:4 Rejoice in the Lord always! Again I will say, Rejoice!2 4:5 Let your gentleness3 be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. 4:6 In nothing be anxious, but in everything, by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. 4:7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your thoughts in Christ Jesus.

4:8 Finally, brothers, whatever things4 are true, whatever things are honorable, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report; if there is any virtue, and if there is any praise, think about these things. 4:9 The things which you learned, received, heard, and saw in me:5 do these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

  1. Clement. Metaphysically, the gentle, soothing, releasing (tender, merciful mild, kind) quality of the word in its calming, equalizing, healing activities in the consciousness. Although Clement of Alexandria lived much later, his temperament aligns well with this interpretation, particularly in comparison to Origen, who followed him.
  2. again I will say, Rejoice! We were created to be happy and we should render praise to God regardless of moods or events.
  3. gentleness (forbearance). To forbear to enforce one's “rights” is a splendid exercise in the development of the higher will.
  4. whatever things... If we turn our thoughts away from the outer appearance and toward the spiritual, dwelling on the good in ourself and others, all the apparent evil will first drop out of your thoughts and then out of our life. Verse 8 in chapter 4 is complete in itself, requires no metaphysical interpretation and will always be an up-to-date guide for people in all moral and religious states of consciousness.
  5. learned, received, heard, and saw in me: Paul represents the word of the Spirit of truth. The converted Paul (formerly Saul, the will) becomes, by the power of the word, the most active thought in the establishment of good throughout our being.

Gratitude for the Philippians’ Gift

4:10 But I rejoice in the Lord greatly, that now at length you have revived your thought for me; in which you did indeed take thought, but you lacked opportunity. 4:11 Not that I speak in respect to lack, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content in it. 4:12 I know how to be humbled, and I know also how to abound. In everything and in all things I have learned the secret1 both to be filled and to be hungry, both to abound and to be in need. 4:13 I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me. 4:14 However you did well that you shared in my affliction. 4:15 You yourselves also know, you Philippians, that in the beginning of the Good News, when I departed from Macedonia, no assembly shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving but you only. 4:16 For even in Thessalonica you sent once and again to my need. 4:17 Not that I seek for the gift, but I seek for the fruit that increases to your account.2 4:18 But I have all things, and abound. I am filled, having received from Epaphroditus the things that came from you, a sweet-smelling fragrance, an acceptable and well-pleasing sacrifice to God. 4:19 My God will supply3 every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.4 4:20 Now to our God and Father be the glory forever and ever! Amen.

  1. I have learned the secret. The possession of poise and equanimity under extremes, whether of good or ill.
  2. that increases to your account. The law of Giving and Receiving. In exchange for light, and guidance into spiritual knowledge, the followers of the apostle of the Christ gladly gave of their support and sustenance.
  3. my God will supply. A study of the Bible reveals the fact that God intends that His children shall have an abundance of the good things of life.
  4. according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. "God is a ceaseless flow of substance, and no matter what the extent of the need, Universal substance can easily supply it. But there is one thing God cannot do. God cannot supply lack. This is because lack is a state of mind, and the condition cannot be remedied until the state of mind is altered. Eric Butterworth, Spiritual Economics, p14.

Final Greetings and Benediction

4:21 Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The brothers who are with me greet you. 4:22 All the saints greet you, especially those who are of Caesar's household. 4:23 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.

Fillmore Study Bible annotations by Mark Hicks.

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