Philippians - Lesson 1

By Curt Niccum

Philippians 1:1-11

Background Information for the Teacher


  1. The student can describe the two reasons Paul wrote this letter.
  2. The student can identify where Paul first introduces the idea of right "thinking” in this letter.


  1. Bibles for every student
  2. If devotional period is desired, you may need songbooks and to designate people for singing, praying, and scripture reading.


Let love increase so you can determine the more important things in life.

Lesson Plan for Conducting the Class

Devotional Period (5-10 minutes)

  1. Read Philippians 1:1-11
  2. Sing up to two songs
    1. The Greatest Command
    2. This is My Task
  3. Prayer (some appropriate subjects for prayer are listed below)
    1. For Christian love and unity to begin at home
    2. For the financial support of our missionaries as an expression of our love

Introduction (10 minutes)

  1. Call the roll or have someone check it. (It is very important to know who is present so someone can check on those who are absent.) Introduce and welcome visitors, take prayer requests, and make any necessary announcements.
  2. "Sometimes it's the little things.” We can be easily distracted from what is important by seemingly trivial issues. We "make mountains out of mole hills.” Somehow the minor becomes major, and it usually takes some type of "wake up call” to force us to re-evaluate our priorities.
    1. The tragedy of September 11, 2001, certainly served as such a "wake up call” for many. Q: Before September 11, what did you find of major importance in your life that suddenly became less important? Q: Why do you think the terrorists chose the World Trade Center? A: Because everybody recognizes the high priority placed on wealth in American society. It struck at the very heart of what was important to most Americans. But how important was it really?
    2. Q: How did your reaction to the attacks alter your lifestyle? Have those changes continued, or have you fallen back into your previous pattern? Q: What types of changes in American life suggested at least a temporary rearranging of priorities? For example, what replaced wealth as a central theme of American life? A: Patriotism certainly became a leading theme, if not the leading theme, for Americans. Another major theme would be the need to come to the aid of others. A tremendous outpouring of generosity followed the attacks.
  3. As we read Philippians, we will see that there is very little wrong with the church in that city. Paul does not combat false teaching. Paul neither condemns nor rebukes. On the other hand, Paul clearly wants the Philippians to rearrange their priorities. Some are allowing trivial things to overshadow the more important things. We find the first hint of this in Paul's opening prayer.

Learning Experiences (20 minutes)

  1. The Philippian church had recently sent money to help support Paul in his mission work in Rome (even as he remained under house arrest, see Phil. 4:10, 15&16 and Acts 28:30-31). You can imagine the Philippian church assembling with some excitement upon hearing about this letter from their missionary. Certainly they anticipated a note of praise for their generous gift of love.
    1. Read verses 3-8, the thanksgiving portion of Paul's prayer.
      1. Q: What do you find in these verses that might reflect Paul's thankfulness to God for the Philippians' monetary support? A: "Your participation in the gospel,” verse 5. "You all are participants of grace with me,” verse 7. (Both of the italicized words come from the Greek word often translated "fellowship.”)
    2. Clearly Paul is thankful for their gift. Surprisingly, though, Paul does not mention the gift again until the postscript of the letter (4:10-20). Paul feels compelled to address another issue first. Q: How might the congregation react to this? He downplays their gift at the beginning of the letter and relegates to the postscript the only substantive discussion about the gift! A: Certainly there might have been some disappointment. Paul still uses language that conveys his fondness for the church, but he postpones any real thanks for the gift of money, and, in the end, says he really didn't need it. The gift was of more benefit to the church that gave rather than to the one who received (see Paul's speech in Acts 20, especially verse 35).
    3. Read verses 9-11, the request portion of Paul's prayer. Q: What do you find here that might suggest those topic(s) Paul will address in the main portion of his letter? A: There are a number of possible answers, all of which will be correct to some extent. The answers should include loving more (verse 9), discerning what the more important things are (verse 10), bringing praise and glory to God because of the work of righteousness produced by those who are sincere and pure on the Day of Judgment (verses 10-11).
      1. Paul prays that the Philippians' love will abound even more. Q: What does this suggest positively? If he desires more, what do they already have to some degree? A: They have already shown love. Certainly their gift of support for him was an expression of love. Paul wants to capitalize on that.
      2. Q: What does this suggest negatively? What do they need more of? Why do they need more of it? A: The church has room to grow in the area of love.
    4. This specific request for more love so the Philippians can identify what is more important in life further suggests that there is a particular problem that Paul wants to address. At the same time, it is clear that Paul does not view this problem as immediately dangerous or insurmountable.
      1. There is little in the letter that helps us to identify the problem precisely. Here are some of the elements that contribute to an overall understanding of the book.
        1. Paul offers himself, Jesus, Timothy, and Epaphroditus (chapters 2-3) as examples of those who have voluntarily given up rights and privileges for the benefit of the Philippian church.
        2. The section of 1:27-3:21 is marked off with the theme of heavenly citizenship. Citizenship was a valued right for Romans, and Philippi was a Roman colony. Every Roman colony was typically filled with citizens fiercely patriotic and loyal to the empire.
        3. In chapter 3 Paul talks of boasting in the flesh and speaks in terms of his own achievements as a Jew. Philippi apparently had a large Jewish community. Luke and Paul found a synagogue there (Acts 16:13 ) and later chose to celebrate the Passover in that city (Acts 20:6).
        4. When Paul addresses the issue directly, he urges two ladies in the church to "be of the same mind” in the Lord (4:2).
      2. When you put all of these together, it suggests that two ladies in the church were having a personality conflict. As with any two people that have a falling out, the tendency is to collect allies who will take your side. It is possible, then, for a small spat to grow out of proportion. We "make mountains out of mole hills.” For example, there is a church in Texas (and there are probably more than just one and in places other than Texas) where such a problem between two men has effectively split the church. Each "side” literally has its own side. The aisle down the middle of the auditorium separates each group. If a person from the "left” side leads singing, the people on the "right” side do not join in. The same works with the "left” side's participation in prayers if led by people on the "right.” I doubt that things had progressed so far in Philippi, but Paul apparently is concerned with the direction things are going.
      3. If we were to try to identify the precise reason for the ladies' dispute, it would probably be a racial issue along the lines of which one had the better genealogy. It very well could be that one was Jewish and one was Roman and both were fiercely proud of their physical heritage. This would certainly fit Paul's unusual focus on citizenship and Jewish achievement. This would also fit well with the other biblical picture we have of life in Philippi written by Paul's coworker familiar with the place (see Acts 16:20-21 and 35-39).
    5. Sometimes it is not false teaching that threatens to destroy a church. Often it is just bickering over "the little things” or personality clashes between two or more Christians that pose the greatest danger. Listening to Paul's answer to the Philippian church will be important to us as well. We too need to know how to discern through love what the more important things are.
    6. Although this is "letting the cat out of the bag,” Paul's answer has to do with "thinking.” He has already started this theme with his language about how he "thinks” about the Philippians (verse 7). (Paul uses a particular word for thinking throughout the letter that associates the proper way of "thinking” towards others with the way Christ "thought” about us, Phil. 2:5.) As we will see, attitude has a lot to do with maintaining (and breaking) relationships.

Application (10 minutes)

  1. Q: Do seemingly meaningless conflicts endanger the unity of churches today? Can you provide some examples without giving away the specific locations and people involved? A: Many will probably be able to provide some story that would suggest that Paul's solution to the Philippian situation two thousand years ago might still need to be heard today. Q: How many Christians leave the church in situations like this? What do stories like this do to the image of God's people in the world? A: Just one person leaving the church is one too many. Charges of hypocrisy also dishonor God's name. The world will certainly not be open to hearing the "good news” from people who seem to be "bad news.”
  2. We have to be careful as well about supposed "false teaching.” Frequently people, aware that churches should not split over personality issues, will try to mask (ultimately trivial) relationship problems by condemning their opponents with fabricated "doctrinal” issues. Q: Can you think of ways this might be done? A: One could certainly go to Daniel 6 for an example. Here the men who were jealous created a doctrinal trap for Daniel. The same thing can occur at the congregational level; many splits have been made over supposedly "doctrinal” issues that really only served as a "religious” cover for a personal attack on another person completely unrelated to that issue. At the personal level, how many "Christian” marriages have been broken by a husband or a wife trying to manipulate the spouse into committing adultery so that a "biblical” divorce can take place? (I know of one man who abused his wife so she would run into the arms of another man. Thus he could "biblically” divorce her and marry his high school sweetheart and "still be a Christian.”)
  3. In the course of this letter, Paul is going to give concrete examples and practical advice on how to fix broken relationships. Certainly this will be beneficial to the church as a whole, but we will find the teachings found in Philippians to be useful in our own relationships too. Is there someone, a family member, a fellow Christian, or a former friend, with whom your relationship is strained? Paul will provide the keys to restoring the broken relationships in your life. Q: Do you see anything in verses 9-11 that might be clues as to the types of things Paul considers necessary to fixing a broken relationship? A: Love, rearranging one's priorities, acting through Christ. Hopefully, by the end of this quarter, you will be motivated to fix any broken relationships in your life.

Assignment (2-5 minutes)

  1. Each class member should read 1:12-18.
  2. Each should be prepared to discuss at the next meeting how Paul reacts to those Christians who are trying to cause him trouble.

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