This small group Bible study of Philippians 1:1-18 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.
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 the 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. A jailer and his family came to know Christ.)
Who is Timothy?
Acts 16 – Background for the Epistle to the Philippians. This chapter tells about Paul’s mission efforts in Philippi.
Verse by Verse Commentary
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 incarceration. 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 his friends had some freedom 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. Paul’s casting out of the demon caused a big ruckus among the people, 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 opened. Paul later shared with the jailer, who was saved along with his household. Subsequently, the city leaders wanted Paul to leave secretly once they realized he was a Roman and they were illegally imprisoning him. He refused, demanding that they come to him publicly (Acts 16:35-40.)
3. Philippians was a Roman colony and immensely proud of its Roman citizenship. Although located 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 exceedingly positive, perhaps the most positive out of all his 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 they would continue to do well. He still wrote, encouraging 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 the spiritual level of those 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 regard 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.
Verse by Verse Commentary
1. Paul may not have been able to do the kind of ministry he had done before with a lot of traveling and church planting, but he didn’t allow this to discourage or keep him from the work. Where there is a will, there is a way. Paul had the will to do ministry, no matter the circumstances, so he found a way. Though he wasn’t free to go where he may have wanted, Paul could share with 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 others 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 despite many difficulties and challenges is also a great inspiration to others.
2. If we have the desire to share the gospel, there is always an opportunity to do so. If you can’t speak, you can write. If you are blind, you can still talk. 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 lonely elderly people. If your parents don’t want to see you, you can write. People have numerous 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, for not sharing the gospel. He was wrongfully imprisoned. But that didn’t stop Paul. 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 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 in his ministry. It is important for us to follow his example in continually praying for those we reach out to, whether they are 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 likely didn’t hurt. Was it God’s blessing? Definitely.
But why did God bless him? Paul 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, your family, 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. Paul prayed with thanksgiving. He realized it was God’s work in the Philippians’ lives, and he was grateful for that work (Philippians 1:6). When God blessed Paul’s ministry, he thanked Him for it. We should do the same.
B. He was joyful. Paul’s joy signified that he cared deeply for the Philippians. Ministering to them wasn’t just a job, a routine to him. Paul loved 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 makes to the Lord on their behalf. What are they? He prays for their love to abound more and more, for their knowledge and discernment. Paul prays that they will approve the things which are excellent and that they will live with sincerity and blamelessness. You don’t see him praying for their careers, health, 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 issues.
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 critical things: character and spiritual growth. By all means, continue praying for the sick, the weak, and 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 change in those areas. Spend some time evaluating the type of things you normally pray for. And make sure that your prayers reflect God’s heart, not your own.
D. He prayed that their strengths would become even stronger. In other words, Paul wasn’t content that they were doing well. He wanted them to reach onward and upward.
Application: No matter how good we are at something, there is always room for growth. No one is perfect, not even in a single 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 Paul’s deep care and close bond with the Philippians in this passage. Their relationship gives us a good example of the kind of fellowship we should have with others. The Philippians 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: Whether you are a new believer or a teacher of many years, you can have solid fellowship with others. Come alongside your brothers and sisters in Christ, work together and strengthen each other. Do not think that you have little to offer just because you are a new believer. God gifts every believer 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.