Session 1: A Note of Thanks

Scripture Philippians 1:1-11

Welcome to this study of the letter by Paul to the Philippians. Together we will look at this positive letter and its call to rejoice even in the midst of hard times. We will find in God and this supportive community the resources we need to let its teachings change our lives.

Philippians is a letter of joy. Joy permeates its pages from start to finish. And yet this is not joy forged out of privilege and abundance. It is not the joy of people who have no problems to face. This is joy in the midst of hard situations. Paul is writing from prison, and he faces the very real possibility of execution. The Philippian church is confronted with internal dissension and with false teachers who would seduce it away from the Gospel.

How can you be joyful in that kind of world? How can you call others to joy when you are in prison? The typical Christian today does not know how to answer these questions, because joy is thought to be what comes with prosperity and success. Joy is what happens when your church is growing and when its influence is spreading in the community. Joy is the lack of pressure and hardship. Philippians is a letter that helps us to address these questions and experience a joy that is with us in the ups and downs of life.

The letter was written by Paul to the Christians in Philippi, a city in the Roman province of Macedonia (modern Greece), eight miles from the Mediterranean Sea in a fertile area known for its freshwater springs and gold mines. Philip II, the king of Macedonia, founded Philippi around 360 b.c. so that he could mine its gold in order to finance his army. The city was named for Philip, the father of Alexander the Great. As a result of Rome's military conquests, Philippi came under Roman rule in 168 b.c. After a while it became a Roman colony. This meant that to live in Philippi was like living in Rome itself. One had all the rights and privileges accorded those in the capital. At the time of Paul, the citizens of Philippi, who were mostly Romans (though there were some Greeks and a few Jews), were very proud of their city and its special tie to Rome.

The church at Philippi was founded during Paul's second missionary journey. Paul had a vision in which a "man from Macedonia" beckoned him to "Come over... and help us" (Acts 16:9). Paul did just that. He sailed almost immediately from Asia, and after two days arrived at the Macedonian seaport of Neapolis. Paul and his party then pressed on to the city of Philippi to begin work. Paul joined a group of women who met on the Sabbath by the banks of the river Gangites to recite prayers. There he met Lydia, a successful merchant whose business was trading in the purple cloth for which her hometown of Thyatira was famous. She listened to Paul's message and was converted along with her whole household. They were the first European Christians. Lydia was not Jewish, but was a "God-fearer," that is, a Gentile who participated in Jewish worship without becoming a proselyte. Her house became the center of missionary activity in Philippi.

Paul soon ran into trouble in Philippi, however. He cast out a demon from a fortune-telling slave girl, and she promptly lost her ability to predict the future. This outraged her owners, who saw that they stood to lose a great deal of money now that the girl was out from under the bondage of the demon. So they had Paul and Silas thrown in jail. After an earthquake during the night and their jailer, with his whole household being saved, the magistrates discovered that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens. The magistrates order that they be released and told Paul and Silas to leave the city. Thus they left Philippi, leaving behind them the first European church.

This church was always special to Paul, and he to it. Years later there was still a warm feeling of mutual care and concern between Paul and the Philippians, so much so that in his epistles Paul calls them his "joy and crown" (4:1).

Paul probably wrote this letter to the church that was his "joy and crown" when he was in Rome under house arrest, awaiting trial, some time after a.d. 60. Paul was in prison when Epaphroditus, an old friend from Philippi, arrived bearing a gift from the church. Paul sent Epaphroditus back to Philippi along with a letter thanking them for their gift and all they meant to him. This also enabled Paul to inform them that he hoped to send Timothy to see them soon, and that he himself would come when he was released from prison.

Ice-Breaker: Connect with your Group
(15 minutes)


Be sure to read the introductory material in the front of this book prior to the first session. To help your group members get acquainted introduce each person and take turns answering one or two of the IceBreaker questions. If time allows, you may want to discuss all three questions.

The relationships we have with family members and friends are one of the joys that get us through our journey in life. Today we are beginning our journey through Philippians, and one thing we will see is the love Paul had for the friends he made as he spread the Gospel. Take turns sharing how you feel about those special relationships in your life.

  1. If you could pick just one person from your childhood to thank God for, other than those in your immediate family, who would it be? What would you especially thank God for in this person?
  2. How well do you communicate with people you care about who are away from you? Rate yourself on a scale of 1 ("I'm so bad that my loved ones think I'm dead") to 10 ("I make phone calls to discuss the e-mails I wrote explaining what I said in my last letter").
  3. If you could send a letter or e-mail to someone with whom you grew up, who would you want to send it to, and what would you say?

Bible Study: Read Scripture and Discuss
(30 minutes)


Select a member of the group ahead of time to read aloud the Scripture passage. Then discuss the Questions for Interaction, dividing into subgroups of three to six. Be sure to save time at the end for the Caring Time.

Paul was a prolific letter writer, and his letters almost always started out the same way—he thanked God for the people to whom he was writing. His letter to the Philippians is perhaps the best example of this because this church held such a special place in his heart. Looking at what he wrote reminds us of how important it is to affirm the people we care about and the relationship we have with them. Read Philippians 1:1-11 and note how Paul prays for the Philippians.

A Note of Thanks

1 Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus:

To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, including the overseers and deacons.

2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

3 I give thanks to my God for every remembrance of you, 4 always praying with joy for all of you in my every prayer, 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. 6 I am sure of this, that He who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. 7 It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because I have you in my heart, and you are all partners with me in grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and establishment of the gospel. 8 For God is my witness, how I deeply miss all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus. 9 And I pray this: that your love will keep on growing in knowledge and every kind of discernment, 10 so that you can determine what really matters and can be pure and blameless in the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.

Philippians 1:1-11

Questions for Interaction


Refer to the Summary and Study Notes at the end of this section as needed. If 30 minutes is not enough time to answer all of the questions in this section, conclude the Bible Study by answering question 7.

  1. What one word best describes your own perception of how Paul begins this letter?
  2. Were someone from your past to write a letter like this to you, what would be your first reaction?
  3. Why does Paul take such care to begin this letter by telling the Philippians how much he thanks God for them? What effect do you think such an expression had on the church at Philippi?
  4. How is God at work in a believer's life according to verses 6 and 9-11? How does this make you feel about uncertainties in your life?
  5. On a scale of 1 (easy) to 10 (hard), how difficult is it for you to express your feelings like Paul did here?
  6. Who was the "apostle Paul" in your spiritual life, the person who introduced you to Jesus Christ and cared about your spiritual growth?
  7. If you could have a spiritual encourager like Paul write you a letter right now, what would you most need to hear from him or her?
  8. How well is your church doing at showing the kind of affirming love that Paul shows here? What does the church need to do to be more positive in how it deals with people?

Caring Time: Apply the Lesson and Pray for One Another
(15 minutes)


Take some extra time in this first session to go over the group covenant found at the beginning of this book. At the close, pass around your books and have everyone sign the Group Directory. You, as leader, pray for the requests shared by the group.

This very important time is for each of you to express concern for other group members by praying for one another.

  1. Agree on the group covenant and ground rules that are described in the introduction to this book.
  2. What does this group need to be like for us to serve as encouragers to each other as Paul did? Pray for God to help this happen.
  3. Share any other prayer requests and praises, and then close in prayer. Pray specifically for God to bring someone into your life next week to fill the empty chair.

Next Week

Today we looked at the positive spirit with which Paul opened this letter and what it says to us about being positive with each other. In the coming week, write a note of encouragement to your pastor or someone who has helped you spiritually. Next week we will consider the tough things Paul was going through, and how he saw them as serving to advance the Gospel.

Notes on Philippians 1:1-11

Summary: In a typical Greek letter, following the salutation, a prayer was offered on behalf of the recipients. Paul follows the custom here, as he does in most of his letters. Specifically, he thanks God for the long partnership he has had with the Philippians. He expresses his gratitude (vv. 3-6) and his affection for them (vv. 7-8). Then he tells them about his prayer for them.

1:1 Timothy. He had long been a companion of Paul. Timothy was with Paul when he visited Philippi for the first time and so was well known there. slaves. Paul lived a life of willing submission to the Lord, a point he will stress as he calls upon Christians to serve one another. saints. This designation is the general New Testament word for Christians, who, because of their union with Christ, have been "set apart" to serve God. overseers and deacons. The function of these individuals is not completely clear, except that they are leaders of some sort, quite possibly appointed by Paul.

1:2 Grace to you and peace. At this point in a Greek letter, the writer would say "rejoice." But here Paul wishes them "grace," which is a word that comes from the same Greek root as the secular greeting "rejoice." In a Hebrew letter, the writer would say "peace" (shalom). Paul links the two wishes together to form a distinctively Christian greeting.

1:3 for every remembrance of you. This is a difficult phrase to translate from the Greek. What it seems to mean is that Paul gave thanks for them regularly.

1:4 with joy. "Joy" is a theme that pervades Philippians. This is the first of some 14 times that Paul will use the word in this epistle. He mentions "joy" more often in this short epistle than in any of his other letters. It is interesting that his first reference to joy is in connection with prayer. my every prayer. This is not the usual Greek word for prayer. (That word is found in verse 9.) This is a word that carries the idea of "need" or "lack," and so came to mean intercessory prayer. Paul is praying that God will meet specific needs that he knows they have.

1:5 because of your partnership. Paul is grateful to God for the Philippians, because they have always stood by him in the work of the Gospel. The Greek word rendered here as "partnership" is the familiar word koinonia, translated elsewhere as "fellowship." It means, literally, "having something in common." It is a favorite word of Paul's. Of the 19 times it appears in the New Testament, he uses it 13 times. in the gospel. The Philippians were partners with Paul in spreading the Gospel. Specifically, they supported him financially in his ministry (2:25; 4:10-20). In addition, they worked with him to spread the Gospel (4:3); they prayed for him (1:19); and they contributed generously to the fund he raised in aid of the needy Christians in Jerusalem (2 Cor. 8:1-5). The word "Gospel" is another favorite of Paul's. He uses it 60 of the 76 times it appears in the New Testament. The Gospel is the Good News about what God has done in Christ Jesus to save men and women.

1:6 I am sure of this. Confidence is another of the underlying themes of Philippians. Paul makes it very clear what lies at the root of this confidence. It is not human accomplishment or ritual of any sort (3:3-4). This is confidence that springs out of faith in who God is and what he is doing. the day of Christ Jesus. This is the moment when Christ will return in glory and triumph to establish his kingdom on earth.

1:7 because I have you in my heart. The phrase could equally well be translated, as in the NEB, "because you hold me in such affection." In this case, the way Paul feels about the Philippians is based on their affection for him. Perhaps the phrase is intended to be ambiguous and to be read both ways, since there was a mutuality of affection between Paul and the Philippians. in the defense and establishment of the gospel. These are legal terms. The reference is to Paul's defense before the Roman court, in which he hopes to be able not only to vindicate himself and the Gospel from false charges, but to proclaim the Gospel in life-changing power to those in the courtroom. (See Acts 26 for an example of how Paul did this when he stood in court before Agrippa and Festus.)

1:8 God is my witness. In moments of deep feeling, Paul would sometimes invoke God to bear witness to the authenticity of these feelings (Rom. 1:9; 2 Cor. 11:11, 31; 1 Thess. 2:5). I deeply miss. Yet another word that is characteristic of Paul. He uses it seven of the nine times it is found in the New Testament. This is a strong word and expresses the depth of Paul's feelings for them, his desire to be with them and wish to minister to them.

1:9 And I pray this. Paul's love for the Philippians leads him to pray on their behalf. What he prays is that they will overflow with love. He prays that this love will increase (i.e., that it will go on developing) through knowledge and discernment.

1:10 so that you can determine what really matters. The Philippians are confronted with competing ideologies as to what is true and how to live. They need "knowledge" and "discernment" in order to choose and follow that which is of God and what results in purity and blamelessness. The word translated as "determine" is used to describe the process of testing coins so as to distinguish between those that are real and those that are counterfeit.