In every truly Christian life the most obvious evidence of the experience of God's grace and peace is gratitude and joy (cf. 4:4, 6). Thus in his earliest letter, to a church that was experiencing severe trial, Paul concluded by exhorting, "Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this [all three of these] is God's will for you in Christ Jesus" (1 Thess 5:16-18). Our letter is the clear evidence, some twelve years or so later, that Paul was as good as his preaching.
It had long been Paul's habit to begin his letters with a thanksgiving and prayer report. This is not to be understood as thanksgiving and prayer in general, however, but it anticipates matters taken up in the body of the letter. Here one often finds expressed both the immediate urgencies and the theological basis for much in the letter. Philippians is no exception.
Three matters make up most of our letter: (1) genuine gratitude for the Philippians' partnership with him in the gospel over many years, evidenced most recently by a material gift brought by Epaphroditus; (2) news about his present imprisonment and what he expects to come of it; and (c) an appeal for steadfastness and unity in light of some relational breakdowns, present opposition and the danger of false teaching.
These concerns predominate in Paul's thanksgiving and prayer. First, he is genuinely grateful for them; indeed every time he thinks about them in prayer, he both thanks God for them—and for their lifelong partnership with him in the gospel—and prays for them with great joy, confident that God will bring his own good work in them to full fruition (vv. 3-6). Second, Paul's present joy and confidence stem from his deep sense of personal relationship with them, evidenced both by their partnership with him in the gospel and his profound affection for them (vv. 7-8). They share in God's grace with him even in his present chains.
Finally, he reports the content of his prayer, whose concern is primarily for an increase in their love for one another, and thus that they be filled with the fruit of righteousness now and blameless at the coming of Christ (vv. 9-11). Thus through prayer and thanksgiving he anticipates the various concerns of the letter—their partnership with him in the gospel, his deep concern for them, and the need for love to replace internal bickering.
IVP New Testament Commentaries are made available by the generosity of InterVarsity Press.
Step 1 - Create an account or log in to start your free trial.
Starting your free trial of Bible Gateway Plus is easy. You’re already logged in with your Bible Gateway account. The next step is to enter your payment information. Your credit card won’t be charged until the trial period is over. You can cancel anytime during the trial period.
Click the button below to continue.
Step 1 - Create an account or log in to start your subscription.
You’ve already claimed your free trial of Bible Gateway Plus. To subscribe at our regular subscription rate of $3.99/month, click the button below.
Try Bible Gateway Plus, a brand-new service that lets you experience Bible Gateway free of banner ads! It also gives you instant access to over 40 Bible study and inspirational devotional books, including the NIV Study Bible. With Bible Gateway Plus, you can experience and understand God's Word in life-changing new ways, without the distraction of ads. Try it free for 30 days—you can cancel at any time. Following your 30-day free trial, Bible Gateway Plus is only $3.99/month.