Lesson 5 of 6
In Progress

Theological Themes in Philippians

The centrality of Christ

Paul’s philosophy of life in Philippians centers on Jesus Christ (“For to me, living is Christ,” 1:21) as Lord (2:6-11) and Savior (3:20). He calls the Philippians to turn from lives of self-centeredness to embrace the fullness of joyful life grounded in following and fellowshipping with Christ.

Oneness In Christ

In the face of the Philippians’ struggles and sufferings, including opposition to their faith, Paul exhorts the believers to “stand firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel” (1:27). Their survival depends on pulling together. Persisting conflict between believers damages the whole community. In particular, Paul urges two women, Euodia and Syntyche, who seem to be congregational leaders, to become reconciled to one another and reaffirm their commitment to mutual ministry “beside me [Paul] in the work of the gospel” (4:2‒3). 

Joy and rejoicing

The experience of joy is pervasive in Philippians. Paul’s prayers for his readers are suffused “with joy” (1:4); joy is centered “in faith” (1:25); complete joy results from being “of the same mind, having the same love, being of full accord and of one mind” (2:2); joy abounds in welcoming Epaphroditus back “with all joy, and honoring such people” (2:29); the Philippians themselves are the reason for Paul’s “joy and crown” (4:1). Likewise, the call to rejoice is a rich expression of the joy that Paul experiences, even during his imprisonment, because of the reality of the living presence of Christ.

Running the race  

A prominent athletic image Paul develops in Philippians relates to competitive running, well-known from ancient Olympic and similar games. He regards his ministry as a long-distance race through difficult terrain, blazing the trail for the Philippian believers. His goal is that “by [their] holding fast to the word of life . . . I can boast on the day of Christ that I did not run in vain or labor in vain” (2:16). Paul also identifies his life-race goal as “becoming like [Christ] in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (3:10‒11). He makes no pretense of achieving this goal on his own. He presses on in faithful hope, forgetting past missteps and stumbles, and forging ahead “toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus” (3:12‒14).