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What kind of person can sit in prison and write a book about joy? The apostle Paul’s joy transcended his earthly circumstances, and he felt compelled to share it with his friends at Philippi. He teaches that happiness is found through Christlike humility, contentment, and service. In just six short lessons, favorite teacher Dr. J. Vernon McGee shows you what it means to have that same kind of joy.



The Epistle of Paul to the Philippians is one of the Prison Epistles. Paul wrote four epistles when he was in prison, and we have labeled them Prison Epistles. They are Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and the little Epistle to Philemon.

The Epistle of Paul to the Philippians was written to the believers in Europe in the city of Philippi. This letter came out of a wonderful relationship that Paul had with the Philippian church. It seems that this church was closer to Paul than was any other church. Their love for him and his love for them are mirrored in this epistle. This epistle deals with Christian experience at the level on which all believers should be living. It is not a level on which all of us are, but it is where God wants us to be. 

Paul visited Philippi on his second missionary journey. You will recall that he and Barnabas went on their first missionary journey to the Galatian country, where they had a wonderful ministry and founded many churches in spite of the persecution they encountered. Paul wanted to visit these churches on his second missionary journey. He wanted to take Barnabas with him again, but Barnabas insisted on taking his nephew, John Mark, who had been with them at the beginning of the first missionary journey. This young fellow, John Mark, you may remember, turned chicken and ran home to mama when they had landed on the coast of Asia Minor. Therefore, Paul did not want to take him the second time. So this split the team of Paul and Barnabas. Barnabas took John Mark and went in another direction. Paul, with Silas for a companion, retraced his steps into the Galatian country, visiting the churches which they had established on the first missionary journey.

It would seem that Paul intended to widen his circle of missionary activity in that area, because a great population was there, and it was highly civilized. Actually, Greek culture and Greek learning were centered there at this particular time. Dr. Luke in recording it says that Paul attempted to go south into Asia, meaning the province of Asia, of which Ephesus was the leading city. But when he attempted to go south, the Spirit of God put up a roadblock. Since he wasn’t to go south, Paul thought he would go north (where Turkey is today), but when “… they assayed to go into Bithynia … the Spirit suffered them not” (Acts 16:7). 

Now he can’t go south, he can’t go north, he has come from the east, there is but one direction to go. So Paul went west as far as Troas. That was the end of the line. To go west of Troas he would have to go by boat. So Paul was waiting for instructions from God.

Sometimes we feel that God must lead us immediately, but God can let us wait. I think He lets us cool our heels many times, waiting for Him to lead us. If you are one who is fretting today, “Oh, what shall I do? Which way shall I turn?” Wait, just wait. If you are really walking with the Lord, He will lead you in His own good time.

So Paul continued to wait in the city of Troas (we know it as Troy) for orders, and he got them finally. He was given the vision of the man of Macedonia, recorded in Acts 16:9–10. 

Paul and his companions boarded a ship that took them to the continent of Europe. To me this is the greatest crossing that ever has taken place because it took the gospel to Europe. I am thankful for that because at this particular time my ancestors were in Europe. One family was in the forests of Germany. I am told that they were as pagan and heathen as they possibly could have been. Another branch of the family was over in Scotland. And they, I am told, were the filthiest savages that ever have been on the topside of this earth. Now don’t you look askance at me, because your ancestors were probably in the cave right next to my ancestors and they were just as dirty as mine were. I thank God today that the gospel went in that direction, because somewhere down the line some of these ancestors heard the Word of God, responded to it, and handed down to us a high type of civilization.

So Paul crossed over into Europe, and his first stop was Philippi. “And on the sabbath we went out of the city by a river side, where prayer was wont to be made; and we sat down, and spake unto the women which resorted thither. And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul. And when she was baptized, and her household, she besought us, saying, If ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house, and abide there. And she constrained us” (Acts 16:13–15). 

Paul, you see, found out that the man of Macedonia was a woman by the name of Lydia, holding a prayer meeting down by the river. That prayer meeting probably had a lot to do with bringing Paul to Europe. I’m of the opinion there were many people in Philippi who saw that group of women down there by the river praying and thought it wasn’t very important. But it just happened to be responsible for the greatest crossing that ever took place! And Lydia was the first convert in Europe.

Now Lydia was a member of the Philippian church to which Paul wrote this epistle. We know something about some of the other members of this church also. There was a girl who was delivered from demon possession. “And it came to pass, as we went to prayer, a certain damsel possessed with a spirit of divination met us, which brought her masters much gain by soothsaying: The same followed Paul and us, and cried, saying, These men are the servants of the most high God, which shew unto us the way of salvation. And this did she many days. But Paul, being grieved, turned and said to the spirit, I command thee in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her. And he came out the same hour” (Acts 16:16–18). 

Also the Philippian jailer and his family were members of this church. You recall that Paul and Silas were thrown into jail at the instigation of the masters of the demon–possessed girl who had been deprived of their income. God intervened for Paul and Silas in such a miraculous way that their jailer came to know Christ. “And [the jailer] brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house…. And when he had brought them into his house, he set meat before them, and rejoiced, believing in God with all his house” (Acts 16:30–31, 34).

There were, of course, other members of this Philippian church whose stories we do not know. They were a people very close to the apostle Paul. They followed him in his journeys and ministered to him time and time again. But when Paul was arrested in Jerusalem, they lost sight of him for two years. They did not know where he was. Finally they heard that he was in Rome in prison. The hearts of these people went out to him, and immediately they dispatched their pastor, Epaphroditus, with a gift that would minister to Paul’s needs. 

So Paul wrote this epistle to thank the church and to express his love for them. He had no doctrine to correct as he did in his Epistle to the Galatians. Neither did he have to correct their conduct, as he did in his Epistle to the Corinthians. There was only one small ripple in the fellowship of the church between two women, Euodias and Syntyche, and Paul gave them a word of admonishment near the end of his letter. He didn’t seem to treat the matter as being serious.

His letter to the Philippian believers is the great epistle of Christian experience. This is Paul’s subject in his epistle to the Philippians.

(McGee, J. Vernon. Thru the Bible Commentary, Vol. 48: Philippians & Colossians. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1991.)

Poems & Quotes

Philippians Introduction

“Go west, young man, go west.”
          –Horace Greeley

Philippians 1:2-6

From "Portrait of a Christian"

Not only in the words you say,
Not only in your deeds confessed.
But in the most unconscious way
Is Christ expressed.
Is it a beatific smile?
A holy light upon your brow?
Oh no, I felt His presence when
You laughed just now.
For me ‘twas not the truth you taught,
To you so clear, to me so dim.
But when you came to me,
You brought a sense of Him.
And from your eyes He beckons me,
From your lips His love is shed,
'Til I lose sight of you and see
The Christ instead.
          –Beatrice Clelland

Philippians 1:14-30

“When I go down to the grave I can say I’ve finished my day’s work, but I cannot say I finished my life. My life’s work will begin the next morning. The tomb is not a blind alley. It is a thoroughfare. It closes with the twilight to open with the dawn.”
          –Victor Hugo

Philippians 2:1-6

Thus speaketh Christ our Lord to us:
Ye call Me Master and obey Me not.
Ye call Me Light and see Me not.
Ye call Me Way and walk Me not.
Ye call Me Life and desire Me not.
Ye call Me Wise and follow Me not.
Ye call Me Fair and love Me not.
Ye call Me Rich and ask Me not.
Ye call Me Eternal and seek Me not.
Ye call Me Gracious and trust Me not.
Ye call Me Noble and serve Me not.
Ye call Me Mighty and honor me not.
Ye call Me Just and fear Me not.
If I condemn you, blame Me not.
          –Inscription in the cathedral in Lubeck

Phillipians 2:8-11

Consider Him

When the storm is raging high,
When the tempest rends the sky,
When my eyes with tears are dim,
Then, my soul, consider HIM.
When my plans are in the dust,
When my dearest hopes are crushed,
When is passed each foolish whim,
Then, my soul, consider HIM.
When with dearest friends I part,
When deep sorrow fills my heart,
When pain racks each weary limb,
Then, my soul, consider HIM.
When I track my weary way,
When fresh trials come each day,
When my faith and hope are dim,
Then, my soul, consider HIM.
Clouds or sunshine, dark or bright,
Evening shades or morning light,
When my cup flows o’er the brim,
Then, my soul, consider HIM.
          –Author unknown

Philippians 2:12-26

“Faith alone saves, but the faith that saves is not alone.”
          –John Calvin

Philippians 3:7-14

“When I was converted, I lost my religion.”
          –Dr. W.I. Carroll

Philippians 3:15-20

“To be anxious for souls, and yet not impatient; to be patient, and yet not indifferent; to bear the infirmities of the weak without fostering them; to testify against sin and unfaithfulness and a low standard of spiritual life, and yet to keep the stream of love full and free and open. To have the mind of a faithful, loving shepherd, a hopeful physician, a tender nurse, a skillful teacher requires the continual renewal of the Lord’s grace.”
          –Missionary in Guatemala

I’ll stay where You put me, I will, dear Lord,
Though I wanted so badly to go.
I was eager to march with the rank and file,
Yes, I wanted to lead them, you know.
I planned to keep step to the music loud,
To cheer when the banner’s unfurled,
To stand in the midst of the fight, straight and proud,
But I’ll stay where you put me.
I’ll stay where you put me, I’ll work, dear Lord,
Though the field be narrow and small
And the ground be fallow and the stones are thick
And there seems to be no life at all.
The field is Thine own, only give me the seed.
I’ll sow it with never a fear.
I’ll till the dry soil while I wait for the rain
And rejoice when the green blades appear.
I’ll work where You put me.
I’ll stay where You put me, I will, dear Lord.
I’ll face the day’s burden and heat,
Always trusting Thee fully. When even has come,
I’ll lay heavy sheaves at Thy feet.
And then when my earth work is ended and done,
In bright eternity’s glow,
Life’s record all closed, I surely shall find
It was better to stay than to go.
I’ll stay where you put me.
          –Mrs. Charles Cowman

“For our city home is in heaven.”
          –Mrs. Montgomery

“Faith alone saves, but the faith that saves is not alone.”
          –John Calvin

Philippians 3:20—4:3

“All the way to heaven is heaven.”
          –Dr. Herbert Bieber

Philippians 4:4-6

“Tell God all that is in your heart, as one unloads one's heart, its pleasures and its pains, to a dear friend. Tell Him your troubles, that He may comfort you; tell Him your joys, that He may sober them; tell Him your longings, that He may purify them; tell Him your dislikes, that He may help you to conquer them; talk to Him of your temptations, that He may shield you from them; show Him the wounds of your heart, that He may heal them; lay bare your indifference to good, your depraved tastes for evil, your instability. Tell Him how self-love makes you unjust to others, how vanity tempts you to be insincere, how pride disguises you to yourself as to others. If you thus pour out all your weaknesses, needs, troubles, there will be no lack of what to say. You will never exhaust the subject. It is continually being renewed. People who have no secrets from each other never want for subjects of conversation. They do not weigh their words, for there is nothing to be held back; neither do they seek for something to say. They talk out of the abundance of the heart, without consideration, just what they think. Blessed are they who attain to such familiar, unreserved intercourse with God.”

“I carry this in the back of my Bible, everywhere I go, and every now and then I get it out and read it. This was written by Fenelon, a great saint and mystic of the Middle Ages.”
          –Dr. J. Vernon McGee