These small group studies of Philippians contain outlines, cross-references, Bible study discussion questions, and applications. Visit our library of inductive Bible studies for more in depth inductive studies on this and other books of the Bible you can use in your small group.
Philippians 1:1-18 Inductive Bible Study – Discussion Questions and Teaching Points
I. Greetings (1-2)
II. Paul prays joyfully for the Philippians growth (3-11)
III. Paul’s imprisonment resulted in the spread of the gospel (12-18)
I. Greetings (1-2)
- Where was Paul when he wrote this book?
- Who was the audience?
- Where was Philippi? (Macedonia, named after father of Alexander the Great)
- Which Bible passage tells about Paul’s original journey to Philippi? (Acts 16)
- What major events happened to Paul there? (Cast demon out of slave girl, was thrown into prison and an earthquake in the middle of the night opened the gates and knocked off their chains. Jailer and his family came to know Christ.)
- Who is Timothy?
Acts 16 – Paul goes on mission trip to Phillipi.
1. Philippians is another of the prison epistles. These were written during Paul’s imprisonment in Rome. Numerous references are made to his imprisonment as well as the praetorian guard (1:13). Paul actually carried on an active ministry during his imprisonment. He shared with many guards and even part of Caesar’s own household (Philippians 4:22.) Likely Paul was not in a dungeon or high security prison. The circumstances described sound more like house arrest. We know there was some freedom of his friends to come and go just like Onesimus in Philemon.
2. Paul originally visited Philippi on his second missionary journey. Lydia was one of the saints there. A demon possessed slave girl followed Paul around for several days, leading to him getting irritated and casting the demon out. This caused a big ruckus and the owners of this fortune teller had Paul and Silas thrown into prison. In the middle of the night, as they were singing praise songs, there was an earthquake. Their chains fell off and the doors were opened. Paul later shared with the jailer who was saved along with his household. Later the leaders of the city wanted Paul to leave secretly once they realized he was a Roman and they were imprisoning him illegally. He refused and instead demanded that they come to him publicly (Acts 16:35-40.)
3. Philippians was a Roman colony and very proud of its Roman citizenship. Although it was in Greece, its government was modeled after Italian towns. Apparently Timothy was with Paul at the time of this writing.
4. The tone of Paul’s letter to the Philippians is very positive, perhaps the most positive of all of Paul’s epistles. He mentions very few negative things about them. They are a church that is doing well, unlike the Corinthians who were rife with problems and strongly rebuked by Paul.
But although they were doing well, Paul did not ignore them or assume that they would continue to do well. He still wrote to encourage them to keep pressing on to even greater heights.
Application: We can learn from this that it is important not to grow complacent with our spiritual level or with those that we teach. Doing well yesterday does not guarantee we will do well today. Growth requires perseverance and dedication.
II. Paul prays joyfully for the Philippians growth (3-11)
- How would you describe the tone of Paul’s letter? (1:3-12)
- How would you describe Paul’s relationship with the Philippians?
- How did Paul feel about them?
- What positive things does he mention about them?
- What negative things does he mention about them?
- Since he can’t meet them face to face, what does he do instead?
- What two qualities can you see in Paul’s prayer (thanks and joy)?
- What can we learn from this?
- What is the main content of Paul’s prayer? What can we learn from this?
- Can you see any strength of the Philippians? What does Paul pray in regards to the areas they are already strong?
John 10:27-30 – My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all[a]; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.
Ephesians 1:13-14 – And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.
2 Cor 5:10 – For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.
1 Peter 1:22 – Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart.
2 Corinthians 1:12 – Now this is our boast: Our conscience testifies that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially in our relations with you, with integrity and godly sincerity. We have done so, relying not on worldly wisdom but on God’s grace.
Philippians 2:15 – So that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky.
1. Paul may not have been able to do the kind of ministry he had done before with lots of traveling and church planting, but he didn’t allow this to discourage him or keep him from the work. Where there is a will, there is a way. Paul had the will to do ministry no matter what the circumstances were so he found a way. He wasn’t free to go where he may have wanted, but he could share to the people around him and he did. Besides that, he wrote letters to the people he couldn’t visit while praying for them often.
Application: We should not make excuses for not reaching out to others. Paul could have become focused on himself and his own problems. It would have been natural for him to expect other to care for and pray for him. He could have looked back on his long ministry and rested on his laurels. But he didn’t. Even in prison, he sought ways to reach out. Sickness, disability, persecution, age, gender: none of these are reasons to stop doing the ministry God has called us to. Serving God even when it is difficult and there are many challenges is a great inspiration to others as well.
2. If we have the desire to share the gospel, there is always an opportunity to do that. If you can’t speak, you can write. If you are blind, you can still speak. If you are on a plane, you can share with the person next to you. If you are in the park, you can share with the lonely elderly people. If your parents don’t want to see you, you can write. People have a lot of excuses for not sharing the good news. Here are a few of them:
- I don’t know enough.
- I am not good enough.
- They will not listen to me.
- I am busy. I will do it later.
- I don’t have many opportunities.
- I am scared/nervous.
Paul had a good “reason” too. He was wrongfully imprisoned. But that didn’t stop him. We would do well to remember Paul’s statement in Romans 1:16, “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God.”
In Exodus 3, Moses made many of these same excuses. And to every one of them God replied, “I will be with you.” God will be with you. His Word is powerful. Open your mouth and “tell of his deeds in songs of joy.” (Psalm 107:22)
2. As we see in all of the books Paul writes, he actively prays for those he ministers to. In almost every one of his letters it is evident that he consistently prays for those he ministers to. It is important for us to follow his example in consistently praying for those we reach out to, whether it is our children, students, Bible study members, or disciples.
Why was Paul’s ministry so effective? Was it his method? Probably partly. Was it his education level? That probably didn’t hurt. Was it God’s blessing? Definitely.
But why did God bless him? He was a man of prayer. God used his prayer to accomplish great things. So I ask, do you pray regularly for the people you share with, for your co-workers, for your family and friends and brothers and sisters in Christ?
What can we learn from Paul’s prayer?
A. He didn’t take God’s answers for granted. He prayed with thanksgiving. He realized it was God’s work in their lives and he was grateful for that work (Philippians 1:6). When God blessed his ministry, he thanked Him for it. We should do the same.
B. He was joyful. This means he cared deeply for the Philippians. It wasn’t just a job, a routine. He cared about them like a father and a close friend. Their successes excited him. At the same time, their failures concerned him.
C. He prayed for spiritual growth. Look at the actual requests Paul is making to the Lord on their behalf. What are they? He prays for their love to abound more and more, for their knowledge, and their discernment. He prays that they will approve the things which are excellent and for their sincerity and blamelessness. You don’t see him praying for their careers or health, or long life, or exams. Not that he never prayed for these things (in James we are commanded to pray for the sick), but he realized these were not the most important things.
Application: What is the main content of your prayer life? For many people, prayers are often shallow and focused on our temporal and physical needs. We learn from Paul and other great men and women of prayer to go deeper. Paul’s prayers focus on the most important things, character and spiritual growth. By all means, continue to pray for the sick, the weak, the poor. Pray for health, strength, and provision. But go beyond this. Plead with God for character growth. Ask God to turn weaknesses into strengths. Identify areas of shortcoming and pray for growth in those areas. Spend some time to evaluate the type of things you normally pray for. And make sure that your prayers reflect God’s heart and not your own.
D. He prayed that their strengths would become even stronger. In other words he wasn’t content that they were doing well. He wanted them to reach on forward and upward.
Application: No matter how good we are at something, there is always room for growth. No one is perfect, even in one area. Do not become complacent. And that is the theme of Philippians. Press on. Press on toward the prize (Philippians 3:14).
3. We also see in this passage Paul’s deep care and close bond to the Philippians. This gives us a good example of the kind of fellowship we should have with others. They were Paul’s spiritual children, but they still were able to encourage Paul through their willingness to put into practice what he taught and their co-participation in the gospel.
Application: No matter if you are a new believer or a teacher of many years, you can have good fellowship with others, come alongside them, work together and strengthen each other. Do not think that just because you are a new believer you have little to offer. Every believer is gifted by God with exactly what they need to build His kingdom how He wants and when He wants.
4. Paul is very God focused. He is keenly aware that it is God’s grace working in them, and through him.
The good qualities that they had were all the result of God’s work in their lives. He knows God is going to finish this work that He began. This shows our salvation is God’s initiative. He is the beginning and the end. He is the source of and the finisher of our spiritual life. This gives us eternal security and the confidence to know that God will never forsake or abandon us. Because sanctification is God’s work in our lives we can be confident it will be carried on to completion.
III. Paul’s imprisonment resulted in the spread of the gospel (12-18)
- How would you describe Paul’s reaction to his imprisonment?
- What attitude did he have?
- How did his unfair imprisonment effect his demeanor?
- How do you think the Philippians might have felt about Paul’s imprisonment?
- What did Paul say to encourage them?
- How did God use Paul’s imprisonment to work together for good?
- How can we remember this principle when we face difficulties in our own lives?
- How can we use our own troubles to encourage other believers?
- In what two ways was the gospel being spread?
- What selfish motivation could possibly motivate push someone to share the gospel?
- What is Paul’s thoughts about this?
- What should be your motive for sharing the gospel?
Ephesians 4:29 – Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.
James 5:9 – Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!
1 Corinthians 10:10 – And do not grumble, as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel.
Proverbs 15:13 – A happy heart makes the face cheerful, but heartache crushes the spirit.
Proverbs 17:22 – A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.
1. Paul practiced what he preached. He often taught others to be joyful and not to complain, to trust God in every circumstance and to realize that God is sovereign over everything.
Romans 8:28 – And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
He didn’t just say that because it was always others in trouble. He faced way more than an average share. Yet he never complained. He was joyful in the prison in Philippi and now he was still joyful in a prison in Rome.
Why could he have such a positive attitude?
His chief goal was for the gospel to be spread, and he realized that this situation afforded many unique opportunities to spread the gospel. We should learn from Paul and always look for the silver lining in our own circumstances.
Application: Don’t focus on the negative things or become a complainer. If you complain, who are you complaining against? If I complain about the cold and wet weather I am complaining against God. If I complain that my baby wakes up in the middle of the night, I am also complaining against God who allowed this to happen, perhaps to build up my patience and compassion. God has a reason for everything. Can you share an example off something difficult that happened in your life that God used for good?
2. What concrete benefits were there for Paul being imprisoned?
- More time for prayer.
- More time for writing epistles.
- A testimony that others could look to, to become bold in their own sharing. We have modern day examples of this as well. After Jim Elliot and his friends gave their lives to reach the Quechua Indians, it sparked a movement of missionaries around the world. This is one reason we need to always be joyful and take advantage of the opportunities we have. Our reaction can influence others as well.
- Opportunities to share with people who would have been very hard to share with in normal circumstances, such as his prison mates, guards, and perhaps even Nero (we don’t have any direct evidence of it, but knowing Paul’s personality it is very likely he shared with Nero during his appeal).
- More time for meditation in his own walk with the Lord.
- More responsibility for his co-workers, ie. Timothy and Titus.
3. Some people were motivated positively by Paul’s imprisonment to share the gospel, but some others were motivated by selfish reasons.
What possible selfish reasons could motivate someone to share the gospel?
Here are a few possibilities:
- Quest for personal recognition
- Popularity among the saints
- A feeling of power
- Earning favor with God
- Financial gain
While Paul didn’t agree with their motivations, he was happy that the gospel was going out and through their preaching people could be saved. God looks at the heart and would not reward someone who has wrong motivations since they already have received their reward (respect of men) in full. But as long as the message was true, then people could hear it and have the opportunity to be saved.
For us, we should examine ourselves and make sure we have the right reason for sharing the gospel. What is the right reason? Love.
Application: Are you regularly sharing the gospel? When was the last time you shared with someone? Spend a few minutes thinking about who among your circle you could pray for. Write down 3-5 names. Are you willing to commit to pray for thee people regularly? Can you make an appointment with one of them this week to share with them about Christ?
Philippians E-book: If this study guide is helpful you can get our whole Philippians study in one convenient e-book to view on any device.
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