Philippians, Colossians, & Philemon


The Life Application Bible Commentary series is the only commentary to offer sermon and lesson applications alongside stirring commentary. Each volume in the series provides in-depth explanation, background, and application for every verse in the text. Perfect for sermon preparation and lesson planning, this one-of-a-kind reference provides excellent quotes and a bibliography for additional commentary.


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The Life Application Bible Commentary series is the only commentary to offer sermon and lesson applications alongside stirring commentary. Each volume in the series provides in-depth explanation, background, and application for every verse in the text. Perfect for sermon preparation and lesson planning, this one-of-a-kind reference provides excellent quotes and a bibliography for additional commentary.

Additional features include

  • Charts, diagrams, and maps on the same page as their related verses
  • Quotes from various versions, such as the NIV, NRSV, and NLT
  • Key information graphically highlighted
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Life Application Bible Commentary PHILIPPIANS, COLOSSIANS & PHILEMON

By Bruce B. Barton Mark Fackler Linda Chaffee Taylor David R. Veerman


Copyright © 1995 The Living Corporation
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8423-2974-3

Chapter One

Philippians 1:1-26


As Paul wrote this letter, he was under house arrest in Rome. When the Philippian church had heard about Paul's imprisonment, they had sent Epaphroditus (who may have been one their elders) to Rome to visit and encourage him. Epaphroditus had arrived with words of affection from the church, as well as a financial contribution that would help make Paul's confinement more comfortable. Paul wanted to thank the believers for helping him during his time of need. He also wanted to tell them why he could be full of joy despite his imprisonment and upcoming trial. He wanted them to remain strong in the faith, realizing that although he was in chains for the gospel, God was still in control and the truth of the gospel remained unchanged. In this uplifting letter, Paul counseled the Philippians about humility and unity and warned them about potential problems they would face.

1:1 Paul. The undisputed author of this letter is the apostle Paul, missionary to the Gentiles, imprisoned in Rome for preaching the gospel. Paul had founded the church in Philippi, so the recipients of the letter were his dear friends and children in the faith. Paul filled his letter with joy and love as he sought to dispel the Philippians' fears regarding his imprisonment, to thank them for their financial support, and to encourage them in their faith.

"Paul" is the Greek version of the Hebrew name Saul (Acts 13:9). From the tribe of Benjamin (3:5), Paul was born in Tarsus, was raised as a strict Pharisee, and was educated in Jerusalem under Gamaliel (Acts 22:3). Though born to Jewish parents, Paul was also a Roman citizen (Acts 22:27-28).

Out of this diverse background, God formed and called a valuable servant. God used every aspect of Paul's upbringing to further the spreading of the gospel. God called him: "This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel" (Acts 9:15 NIV). Paul fulfilled his calling. So far, he had taken three missionary journeys, covering thousands of miles as he carried the gospel from Jerusalem, across Asia, and into Europe. His ultimate goal had always been to take the gospel to Rome itself-capital of the vast Roman Empire that had spread over most of Europe, North Africa, and the Near East. The fact that all roads led to Rome made Rome a perfect center for the gospel message to spread across the known world.

Paul wrote this letter from Rome. He had arrived there through a series of unusual circumstances. He had been arrested in Jerusalem by the Romans for seemingly inciting a riot. A plot to kill Paul caused the Romans to take Paul to Caesarea (on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea). There Paul gave the gospel message to Governor Felix and his wife Drusilla (Acts 23:24; 24:1-26). Felix didn't make a decision in the case, leaving Paul in prison for two years until Festus became the new governor. Then Paul was able to present the gospel to Festus, and then to King Agrippa and Bernice (Acts 25:1-26:32). Paul did indeed carry God's name to Israel, and to the Gentiles and to their kings, just as God had said (Acts 9:15).

Every Roman citizen had the right to appeal to Caesar. This didn't mean that Caesar himself would hear the case, but that the citizen's case would be tried by the highest courts in the empire. As a prisoner being unjustly tried, Paul used the opportunity to get to Rome by appealing his case to Caesar (Acts 25:12). Paul had wanted to preach the gospel in Rome, and he eventually got there-in chains, through shipwreck, and after many trials (Acts 27-28).

In Rome, Paul was under house arrest. This meant that he could receive visitors and write and receive letters. Paul had to finance his imprisonment. Acts 28:30 states that Paul had to pay for his own rented apartment in Rome; plus he had to pay for the guards as required by Rome. Although Paul's normal policy was not to accept support from the churches so that he could not be accused of having a "profit motive," he did accept a gift from the Philippians for his support in prison (see 4:10-18).

Paul wrote several letters during this imprisonment. These are called the Prison Letters, or Prison Epistles, and Philippians is one of those (the others being Ephesians and Colossians). Paul also wrote personal letters, such as the one to Philemon. Luke was with Paul in Rome (2 Timothy 4:11). Timothy was a frequent visitor, as were Tychichus (Ephesians 6:21), Epaphroditus (4:18), and Mark (Colossians 4:10). Paul witnessed to the imperial guard (that is, the Roman soldiers, 1:13) and was involved with the Roman believers.

Paul had arrived in Rome around A.D. 59 and had spent two years under house arrest. The letter to the Philippians was probably written toward the end of Paul's imprisonment there, in A.D. 61. The reasons for a late dating of this letter include the following:

* Paul expressed expectation of an impending decision on his case (2:23).

* Enough time had gone by for the Philippians to have heard of Paul's imprisonment, send Epaphroditus, hear back of Epaphroditus's sickness, and then send back words of concern. (Some scholars contend that travel back and forth between Rome and Philippi could not have occurred during this short time period, and so they say that Paul was writing from either Caesarea or Ephesus, not Rome. See the introduction to Philippians for a full discussion.)

* Philippians must have been written after Colossians, Ephesians, and Philemon because Paul says in Philippians that Luke was no longer with him (2:20), and Luke had been there when Paul wrote Colossians (Colossians 4:14) and Philemon (Philemon 24).

And Timothy. Timothy was a frequent visitor during Paul's imprisonment in Rome (Colossians 1:1; Philemon 1) and was with Paul in Rome when he wrote this letter. Then Timothy went as Paul's emissary to the church in Philippi (2:19). Timothy had a special interest in the Philippians (2:20), for he had traveled with Paul on his second missionary journey when the church at Philippi had begun (Acts 16:1-3, 10-12). Although he is mentioned in the salutation, Timothy is not considered a coauthor. Paul wrote in the first person throughout this letter.

Timothy grew up in Lystra, a city in the province of Galatia. Paul and Barnabas had visited Lystra on Paul's first missionary journey (Acts 14:8-21). Most likely, Paul had met the young Timothy and his mother, Eunice, and grandmother Lois (2 Timothy 1:5) on this journey, perhaps even staying in their home.

On Paul's second missionary journey, he and Silas returned to several cities that Paul had already visited, including Lystra. There Paul invited Timothy to accompany them. Timothy would travel the empire with Paul, preaching and teaching the Good News, traveling with Paul as his assistant and sometimes for him, as his emissary.

Paul and Timothy had developed a special bond, like father and son (2:22). Paul had led Timothy to Christ during his first missionary journey. Timothy would become an important leader in the early church and, like Paul, eventually would be imprisoned for his faith. The writer of Hebrews mentioned Timothy at the end of that letter: "I want you to know that our brother Timothy has been released. If he arrives soon, I will come with him to see you" (Hebrews 13:23 NIV).

Servants of Christ Jesus. NRSV While Paul usually used the designation "apostle" in the beginning of his letters, here he referred only to his and Timothy's role as servants of Christ Jesus. The Philippians had been an encouragement to Paul, readily accepting his position and message. Apparently, Paul did not feel the need to mention his apostleship or to present his credentials as in some of his other letters.

The word doulos, translated "servant," means "slave," one who is subject to the will and wholly at the disposal of his master. Paul expressed his and Timothy's absolute devotion and subjection to Christ Jesus. In Greek culture, the custom of manumission enabled a slave to be set free but remain devoted to a master for life as a bondservant. Paul may have had that in mind as he wrote to this audience. More likely, he was using the Old Testament concept of "servant of Yahweh," as used of Moses (Exodus 14:31) and other prophets (Jeremiah 25:4; Daniel 9:6-10; Amos 3:7). This concept conveyed their dignity as authoritative messengers of the Lord.

The pattern of ancient letters was for the writer to first identify himself or herself (as opposed to letters today that are signed at the end). Paul always declared his Christian faith from the very start. Paul and Timothy were not mere servants, they were servants of the divine Lord, Christ Jesus himself.


The work that servants perform benefits both their masters and those whom their masters wish to help. When we serve others, as Paul did, we can call ourselves servants of Christ Jesus. We serve Christ by serving them. Jesus made our servant job description very clear during his last evening with his disciples. After washing their feet, he said, "Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet" (John 13:14 NIV). What can you do to serve others this week?

To all the saints in Christ Jesus. NKJV The word "saints" was a common term designating believers. It did not mean those who were without sin. The Greek word is hagioi, meaning "those set apart." Like Paul and Timothy, these believers were also in Christ Jesus because of their faith; they had accepted Jesus as their Savior and had joined God's family. Only through faith in Christ and our union with him in his death and resurrection can we be set apart from evil and for service to God.

The first "saint" or convert in Philippi was a woman named Lydia. Because few Jews lived in the city, there was no synagogue for Paul to visit. Thus in Philippi, Paul did not face the problem of false teaching from the Judaizers as he had faced in so many other areas with significant Jewish populations. The Romans tolerated religious practices other than their state religion, but often relegated them to territory outside the city. Thus, these people were outside the city gates beside the river (Acts 16:11-15). From those humble beginnings began the faithful Philippian church.

The church at Philippi was about twelve years old when Paul wrote this letter. It had been a significant source of financial support for Paul (4:15-16; 2 Corinthians 11:9). Paul had often commended the church, holding it up as an example of generosity (2 Corinthians 8:1-2).

Who are in Philippi. NKJV The city of Philippi had a rich history. The site of the city was northern Greece (called Macedonia). The city of Philippi, with mountains on every side, and its port city of Neapolis on the Aegean Sea, had originally been strategic sites in the Greek empire. Gold was discovered at Mount Pangaeum to the west, tempting settlers from the Aegean island of Thasos to seize the area. They founded a city near the site of Philippi, naming it Krenides (meaning "spring" for the spring-fed marshlands in the valley).

When Philip II of Macedon (the father of Alexander the Great) ascended the throne of the Greek empire, he captured the city in about 357 B.C., enlarged and strengthened it, and gave it his name. Philip used the yield of the gold mines to outfit his army.

In 168 B.C., the Romans conquered Macedonia. The mountain's gold was exhausted, and the city declined. But in 42 B.C., the city became a Roman colony (see Acts 16:12). On the plains surrounding the city, Augustus had defeated Brutus and Cassius (assassinators of Caesar). He then gave the city the status of a "colony" to celebrate his victory. A colony was considered a part of Rome itself. Its people were Roman citizens (a standing that carried high privilege), had the right to vote, were governed by their own senate, and had Roman law and Latin language. Later the city was given the right to the Law of Italy, giving it many privileges and immunities-most significantly immunity from taxation. Philippi was also a "garrison city" with a Roman garrison stationed there to keep it secure. The Philippians were proud of their Roman heritage and standing (Acts 16:20-21).

At the time of Paul's visit, Philippi was a thriving commercial center at the crossroads between Europe and Asia. During Paul's second missionary journey, he tried to continue his ministry northward into Bithynia and Mysia, only to be stopped by the Spirit. In Troas, "Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, 'Come over to Macedonia and help us'" (Acts 16:9 NIV). Thus in about A.D. 50, Paul, Silas, Timothy, and Luke crossed the Aegean Sea from Troas and landed at Neapolis, the port of Philippi (Acts 16:11-40).

At Troas, Paul received the Macedonian call, so he, Silas, Timothy, and Luke boarded a ship. They sailed to the island of Samothrace, then on to Neapolis, the port for the city of Philippi.

Paul certainly had a memorable experience in Philippi. While he didn't face Judaizers, he did find opposition of another kind. Paul cast a demon out of a young slave girl who had been earning a great deal of money for her owners through fortune-telling. When the demon was released, the girl's fortune-telling powers disappeared, so the girl's owners were furious. Paul and Silas were arrested, stripped, beaten, flogged (the Roman punishment that Jesus also received-a punishment so severe it sometimes killed the receiver), and thrown into prison, where they were put in an inner cell with their feet fastened in stocks (Acts 16:16-24). Paul later wrote to the Thessalonians, "We had previously suffered and been insulted in Philippi, as you know" (1 Thessalonians 2:2 NIV).

But Paul and Silas praised God and sang hymns in their prison cell. "Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everybody's chains came loose" (Acts 16:26 NIV). As a result, the jailer and his family believed, and Paul and Silas were released to continue their journey.

It seems that Luke remained in Philippi, because the "we" account in Acts ends in chapter 16 and picks up again in 20:5 when Paul again leaves Philippi on his return to Jerusalem. Luke's presence could account for the growth and strengthening of the church in Philippi. Luke would have been a logical choice to remain there, for Philippi may have been Luke's home. The city had a famous school of medicine, where Luke, a medical doctor, may have studied.

Together with the overseers and deacons. NIV While Paul greeted all the "saints," meaning the entire church, he singled out the church's leadership for greetings as well. Overseers (also called elders) were in charge of the church, "overseeing" it-watching over, nourishing, and protecting the spiritual life of the believers. The church in Philippi had several overseers drawn from the church membership. Paul had appointed overseers in various churches during his journeys: "Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust" (Acts 14:23 NIV). In Acts 20:28, Paul spoke to the "elders" in the Ephesian church: "Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers" (NIV). The sheer number of churches meant that neither Paul himself, his companions, nor all the apostles could administer the day-to-day workings of each church. So Paul wisely set up groups of leaders, allowing church members to govern themselves with guidance from the apostles. The new churches needed strong spiritual leader ship. The men and women chosen were to lead the churches by teaching sound doctrine, helping believers mature spiritually, and equipping them to live for Jesus Christ despite opposition. The qualifications and duties of the overseers are explained in detail in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9. (See Philippians 1:1-5 for Paul's view of partnership.)


Paul knew that God had given him unusual spiritual gifts and a special mission, but he also knew that he was not a one-man band.

Right away, before his teaching and doctrine and pastoral words, Paul displayed his team spirit, referring to Timothy, the deacons, the elders, and all the Christian brothers and sisters near and far.

We who are "in Christ Jesus" need each other. A one-person team will not stay in the game for long. Neither will your team if you drop out. Christians need to work together, side by side, to see God's kingdom grow.


Excerpted from Life Application Bible Commentary PHILIPPIANS, COLOSSIANS & PHILEMON by Bruce B. Barton Mark Fackler Linda Chaffee Taylor David R. Veerman Copyright © 1995 by The Living Corporation. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents


General Introduction....................1
Introduction to Philippians....................1
Occasion and Purpose....................6
Vital Statistics....................11
Outline of Philippians....................12
Philippians 1:1-26....................43
Philippians 1:27-2:30....................77
Philippians 3:1-4:1....................105
Philippians 4:2-23....................127
Introduction to Colossians....................128
Occasion and Purpose....................131
Vital Statistics....................135
Outline of Colossians....................136
Colossians 1:1-23....................167
Colossians 1:24-2:23....................197
Colossians 3:1-4:6....................225
Colossians 4:7-18....................235
Introduction to Philemon....................235
Occasion and Purpose....................237
Vital Statistics....................239
Outline of Philemon....................241
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