Insights on Philippians, Colossians, Philemon

Insights on Philippians, Colossians, Philemon

by Charles R. Swindoll


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Insights on Philippians, Colossians, Philemon by Charles R. Swindoll

Philippians is saturated with joy. While under house arrest in Rome, Paul wrote to encourage the Philippians to rejoice in the Lord, despite their circumstances—to find Christ-centered, Spirit-empowered joy in living, serving, sharing, and resting.

Colossians is addressed to a church suffering from cultural capitulation and spiritual surrender—just like the church of the twenty-first century. Those who deceive others with self-centered philosophies, self-promoting legalism, and self-serving asceticism attract power and attention, while diminishing the gospel of Jesus Christ. Colossians serves as a lighthouse piercing the fog of false teaching and leading us to the safe harbor of Christ.

Philemon illustrates the importance of second chances, the equality of believers in Christ, and the power of the gospel to transcend cultural and social boundaries, it reminds us of the Christ-centered concepts of freedom, forgiveness, mercy, and especially grace.

The 15 volume Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary series draws on Gold Medallion Award–winner Chuck Swindoll’s 50 years of experience with studying and preaching God’s Word. His deep insight, easygoing style, and humor bring a warmth and accessibility not often found in commentaries. Each volume combines verse-by-verse commentary, charts, maps, photos, key terms, and background articles with practical application. This series is a must-have for pastors, teachers, and anyone else who is seeking a deeply practical resource for exploring God’s Word.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781414393834
Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers
Publication date: 11/21/2017
Series: Swindoll's Living Insights New Testament Commentary Series , #9
Pages: 240
Sales rank: 610,900
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 9.20(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Charles R. Swindoll has devoted his life to the clear, practical teaching and application of God's Word. He currently pastors Stonebriar Community Church in Frisco. Texas, and serves as the chancellor of Dallas Theological Seminary. His renowned Insight for Living radio program airs around the world. Chuck and Cynthia, his partner in life and ministry, have four grown children, ten grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren.

Read an Excerpt



Paul wrote his letter to the Philippians to encourage them to find Christ-centered, Spirit-empowered joy in living, serving, sharing, and resting. Though it contains sound doctrine and practical insights that have proven to be relevant throughout the centuries, Philippians is not primarily a theological treatise, but a loving letter of friendship from one brother in Christ to his extended spiritual family. Even when he warns the Philippians about false teaching, he does so warmly and graciously, expecting the best from his readers.

In chapter 1 this theme of joy is exemplified as Paul encourages the Philippians to find Christ-centered, Spirit-empowered joy in living — even when things don't seem to be going their way. It opens with Paul's cheerful admission that his prayers for the Philippians always kindle the warmth of joy in his heart (1:3-4). He also demonstrates personal joy and optimism in the midst of challenges and difficult circumstances that are beyond his control (1:6-14).

This is a message every generation of believers needs to hear! Whether we face conflicts or setbacks, we can find joy in living if Jesus Christ is the source and center of our lives. Regardless of whether we continue on in this world, striving for the gospel, or we pass on to the next to be with Christ, we're to keep our focus on Him, the source of our joy (1:21-25).

Confident Enough to Be Joyful PHILIPPIANS 1:1-11


1 Paul and Timothy, bondservants 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 thank my God in all my remembrance of you, 4 always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all, 5 in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now. 6 For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. 7 For it is only right for me to feel this way about you all, because I have you in my heart, since both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers of grace with me. 8 For God is my witness, how I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. 9 And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, 10 so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ; 11 having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.


1 This letter is from Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus.

I am writing to all of God's holy people in Philippi who belong to Christ Jesus, including the church leaders and deacons.

2 May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace.

3 Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God. 4 Whenever I pray, I make my requests for all of you with joy, 5 for you have been my partners in spreading the Good News about Christ from the time you first heard it until now. 6 And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.

7 So it is right that I should feel as I do about all of you, for you have a special place in my heart. You share with me the special favor of God, both in my imprisonment and in defending and confirming the truth of the Good News. 8 God knows how much I love you and long for you with the tender compassion of Christ Jesus.

9 I pray that your love will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding. 10 For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ's return. 11 May you always be filled with the fruit of your salvation — the righteous character produced in your life by Jesus Christ — for this will bring much glory and praise to God.

Ours is a frivolous age with lots of shallow, empty laughter ... but very little real joy.

Most people stumble around in perpetual confusion — darkness, really. As they seek genuine joy, they satisfy themselves with only occasional glimpses of light — and artificial light at that. Occasionally, it's sad to say, some of the light they're attracted to is a consuming fire. It destroys their lives rather than illuminating their minds or warming their hearts.

Paul would have understood this plight as he, too, groped around in darkness until that glorious day when the light of the gospel of Christ shone brightly into his life (Acts 9:1-19). From that day on, although he often experienced suffering, he rarely let the darkening fog of discouragement cloud his mind or drive out the light of joy.

His letter to the Philippians, embossed with unfading joy on every page, is proof that, for Paul, joy was more than a fleeting emotion; it was part of his ingrained character. How could that be? It's because he was confident that God was at work, that God was in complete control, and that God allowed all things to occur for one ultimate purpose — His greater glory.

Paul understood that joy doesn't depend on our circumstances, our possessions, or other people. Joy is an attitude of the heart determined by confidence in God. Paul knew that he had no control over the struggles and strife of life. But by yielding to the Spirit's work in his soul, Paul's trust and hope in God could guide him like an inner compass, keeping him on joy's course regardless of how strong the gale-force winds blew.

Poet Ella Wheeler Wilcox put this idea beautifully in her poem "The Winds of Fate":

One ship drives east and another drives west With the self-same winds that blow;
In the first chapter of Paul's joy-filled letter to the Philippians, we come face-to-face with his bold, joyous confidence, setting the trajectory for more to come. He extends a warm greeting to the Philippians in 1:1-2, offers up joyful thanksgiving in 1:3-8, and lifts them up in prayer in 1:9-11.


As he does in all his letters, Paul begins with a customary gracious greeting. When the Philippians took the scroll from the hand of Epaphroditus and unrolled it (see 2:25; 4:18), the first words they would have seen in the Greek text were "Paul and Timothy" (1:1). These were not strangers, not remote leaders governing impersonally from a distance through go-betweens — these were loving shepherds and beloved friends.

Though sometimes the inclusion of multiple names could indicate a sort of coauthorship (e.g., 1 Thessalonians), in the case of Philippians, Timothy probably wasn't involved in the actual composition of the letter itself. Throughout the letter Paul uses the first-person singular, indicating that he's personally the source of the words. Why is Timothy included then? Because the Philippians would have had fond memories of that wet-behind-the-ears "intern" who had just joined Paul and Silas prior to their original arrival in Philippi (see Acts 16). Timothy had been there when Paul shared the gospel with Lydia at the place of prayer by the river, when Paul cast the spirit of divination out of a slave girl and caused a great upheaval among the pagans of Philippi, when Paul and Silas were dragged off to prison as a result, and when the fledgling church grew despite their founding apostle and prophet being beaten and jailed. No doubt Timothy had been forced to step up and begin to lead the best he could in the absence of Paul and Silas. Now, over a decade later, Timothy was still at Paul's side as a "kindred spirit" of "proven worth" (Phil. 2:20, 22).

Today, icons, statues, and paintings of apostles tend to portray people like Paul and Timothy as larger-than-life heroes. If they aren't bulked up and poised for epic action, their faces glow, halos orbit their heads, and miracles flow from the tips of their fingers. What a contrast to Paul's own humble, self-demoting label "bond-servants of Christ Jesus" (1:1)! The term Paul uses, doulos [1401], means "one who serves another to the disregard of his own interests."

Paul then identifies those to whom he writes: both the membership of the church in Philippi ("saints in Christ Jesus") and the leadership ("overseers and deacons"). The Greek word translated "overseers" (episkopos [1985]) refers to a group of leaders keeping a watchful eye over those in their charge. In the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament), an episkopos was one who served as judge, as treasurer, or as supervisor of the priests and the Levites serving in the temple. Elsewhere in the New Testament, Peter calls Jesus the episkopos of our souls (1 Pet. 2:25). In this sense, the church official designated by this term is someone charged to "shepherd" (poimaino [4165]) the church, to serve as an undershepherd to the Lord, leading His flock on His behalf and under His authority. Paul listed the qualifications of an "overseer" in a letter to Timothy, who was serving in Ephesus at the time (1 Tim. 3:2-7). The deacons, in turn, assisted the overseers in various ministry-related tasks. The term diakonos [1249] carries the idea of serving obediently, willingly, and submissively from a heart of humility. The Latin translation of the Greek term diakonos is minister, from which we get this particular title. In the New Testament, diakonos can refer to a servant with a certain mission (Rom. 15:8), a personal assistant (Matt. 22:13), or a person in the office of "minister" in a local church (Phil. 1:1). Acts 6:1-6 recounts the appointment of the first deacons in the church. Paul uses the term for "minister" in the general sense of a self-sacrificing servant in the kingdom of Christ.

The church in Philippi, of course, had multiple people appointed to both offices — overseers/elders and deacons/ministers (Phil. 1:1). They were tasked with the "equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ" (Eph. 4:12). From the youngest to the oldest, from the recently baptized believers to Philippi's first converts, from followers to leaders, Paul calls them all "saints" (Phil. 1:1) and blesses them equally: "Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ" (1:2). Though this was a standard greeting in Paul's letters, it's a profoundly deep theological statement. Grace and peace are essential blessings for living the Christian life and especially for carrying out Christian ministry. These things can't be conjured from within; they are gifts of God through Jesus Christ.


Paul's fond memories of the Philippians prompted him to follow his gracious greeting with joyous thankfulness and prayer (1:3-4). Regarding the Philippians, he had no regrets, no ill feelings, no unresolved conflicts. His heart was filled with joy as he reminisced on the times he had spent with them — their first meeting over a decade earlier when the church was planted (Acts 16) and another gathering during his third missionary journey (Acts 20).

But his thankfulness and joy were not inspired by mere nostalgia. Paul indicates in Philippians 1:5 that the Philippians were participating "in the gospel from the first day until now." Their commitment to Christ and the proclamation of His word never let up, not for a moment.

I wonder how many pastors could say that about churches where they have served. Or how many saints could say it about longtime Christian friends? Like most of us, Paul experienced some great disappointments, from churches and from individual brothers and sisters in Christ. But not from the Philippians. The thought of them didn't make his stomach churn; rather, it prompted him to thankfulness, joy, and prayer.

Because of the Philippians' past perseverance and present passion, Paul was confident in their future faithfulness (1:6). He had no doubt that God was at work in Philippi, that He had plans for that church, and that He was in control and would see them through to the end. The Greek verb translated "perfect" in 1:6 is epiteleo [2005], which means "to bring about a result according to plan or objective." 6 God had begun the work of spiritual growth, of ministry participation, and of faithful Christian witness among these believers. And He would stay at it until He called them home or until Christ stepped back into this world to reward them for their Spirit-enabled labor.

Paul exposes his deep feelings in 1:7-8. Far from being a cold, get-it-done apostle, Paul didn't hesitate to share his deep emotions. He always had the Philippians "in his heart" (1:7). G. Walter Hansen unpacks the meaning of this phrase nicely: "When Paul tells his friends that he has them in his heart, he is expressing more than a sentimental feeling; he is stating the commitment of his heart to give his life for his friends." 7 Their commitment to him through thick and thin and their participation in the gospel ministry only served to strengthen his own heartfelt commitment to them. They were more than friends. They were lifelong partners in Christ.

Because of this, Paul yearned for them — all of them (1:8). Notice how many times Paul repeated the word "all" in 1:1-8:

• He greeted all the saints. (1:1)

• He thanked God in all his remembrance. (1:3)

• He prayed for all of them. (1:4)

• He felt strongly about them all. (1:7)

• They were all fellow partakers of grace. (1:7)

• He affectionately longed for them all. (1:8)

From the family of Lydia to the Roman jailer's household, from the elders and deacons to the new believers, the deep love Paul felt for the church in Philippi made his heart leap in his chest as he yearned to spend time with them again.


This profound thankfulness and love led to specific prayers for the Philippians, as it should for us. Christians shouldn't just say, "You're in our thoughts." We should say, "You're in our prayers" — and we should mean it! Paul certainly did. His deep, joyful contemplation of the Philippians prompted him to pray for some specific things, things that can only come from God.

First, he prayed that their love would continue to grow and would be characterized by "real knowledge and all discernment" (1:9). I like to picture love like a river. It needs to be guided by the banks of knowledge and discernment. Paul isn't telling the Philippians to let their love blind them to truth and righteousness so they end up overlooking sin and compromising holiness. That's a false interpretation of "love" we often see in the world today. True Christian love is guided by the best interest of others. With true knowledge and discernment, love learns to spot the phony, the wrong, the evil. It learns to "approve the things that are excellent" (1:10). This love, guided by wisdom, will preserve believers in righteousness until "the day of Christ" — the Second Coming, when the Lord Jesus will reward them for faithfulness.

Second, Paul prayed that they would be filled with the "fruit of righteousness" (1:11). Don't confuse this with self-righteousness, personal piety, or self-motivated works. Paul is referring to the righteousness of Christ working in us by the indwelling Holy Spirit to produce fruit in our lives (see Gal. 5:22-23). The result of such good works empowered by God will be "the glory and praise of God" (Phil. 1:11) — not our own praise and glory. Jesus said essentially the same thing: "Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven" (Matt. 5:16).

What a solid basis for abiding joy! When Paul scanned the ten-year life span of the body of Christ in Philippi, he had every reason to rejoice in confidence, as expressed in thanksgiving, prayer, and praise.


Setting Your Sails for the Harbors of Joy

The second stanza of Wilcox's "The Winds of Fate" provides another reminder about setting our sails for joy:

Like the winds of the sea are the winds of fate,
While I don't believe in fate, I do believe that apart from a confidence in the providential care of God, the winds of strife can easily capsize our vessels and leave our souls drowning in despair. To set the course of our souls to experience genuine joy, let's recall a few principles from Paul's opening words in Philippians 1.


Excerpted from "Swindoll's Living Insights New Testament Commentary, Volume 9"
by .
Copyright © 2017 Charles R. Swindoll, Inc..
Excerpted by permission of Tyndale House Publishers.
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Table of Contents

Author's Preface vii

The Strong's Numbering System ix

Introduction: Philippians 3

Joy in Living (Philippians 1:1-30) 13

Confident Enough to Be Joyful (Philippians 1:1-11) 14

What a Way to Live! (Philippians 1:12-20) 22

Between a Rock and a Hard Place (Philippians 1:21-30) 29

Joy in Serving (Philippians 2:1-30) 36

A Christlike Descent into Greatness (Philippians 2:1-11) 37

Working Out God's Inner Work (Philippians 2:12-18) 46

A "Son" and a "Brother" (Philippians 2:19-30) 53

Joy in Sharing (Philippians 3:1-21) 61

Human Rubbish versus Divine Righteousness (Philippians 3:1-11) 62

Hanging Tough and Looking Up (Philippians 3:12-21) 71

Joy in Resting (Philippians 4:1-23) 81

The Cure for Anger and Anxiety (Philippians 4:1-9) 82

Living beyond Our Needs (Philippians 4:10-23) 91

Introduction: Colossians 101

Jesus Christ, Our Lord (Colossians 1:1-2:23) 110

Praying for Knowledge of the Truth (Colossians 1:1-14) 111

Crowning Christ as Lord of All (Colossians 1:15-23) 121

A Precise Explanation of Ministry (Colossians 1:24-29) 131

Counsel from a Concerned Apostle (Colossians 2:1-10) 139

Living Forgiven … and Free (Colossians 2:11-23) 149

Jesus Christ, Our Life (Colossians 3:1-4:1) 159

Spot-On Advice from a Seasoned Mentor (Colossians 3:1-14) 160

Wherever, Whatever, Whenever, However … Christ! (Colossians 3:15-4:1) 168

Jesus Christ, Our Leader (Colossians 4:2-181) 180

The Big Deal about "Little" Things (Colossians 4:2-6) 181

A Friendly Farewell (Colossians 4:7-18) 187

Introduction: Philemon 199

A Study in Forgiveness (Philemon 1:1-25) 205

Endnotes 217

List of Features and Images

Timeline of Philippians 2

Map of the Egnatian Way 2

The Book of Philippians at a Glance 4

Quick Facts on Philippians 6

Philippi in the First Century 8

Egnatian Way 8

Ruins of Philippi 9

Overjoyed: The Theme of Joy in Philippians 10

Original Church Leadership: Overseers and Deacons 18

On the Other Hand: Synkrisis in Paul 31

Kenosis in Philippians 2:6-11 44

Excursus: Did Christ Empty Himself of His Deity? 43

Ancient Libation 52

Timothy in the New Testament 57

Taking the Ultimate Risk for Others 58

Ancient Ship 68

Greek Runner 75

Other Pauline Uses of "Standing Firm" 84

The Book of Life 86

Ancient Scroll 86

Paul's Contentment in All Circumstances 94

Saints in Caesar's Household 97

Timeline of Colossians 100

Map of Paul's Third Missionary Journey 100

The Book of Colossians at a Glance 102

Quick Facts on Colossians 104

Colossae in the First Century 105

Location of Colossae 105

False Teaching at Colossae 108

Roots of Gnosticism in the First Century 118

Historic Hymns in the New Testament 124

Family Tree 145

Walking, Growing, and Bearing Fruit 146

Roman Triumphal Procession 153

Excursus: Were the Old Testament Saints Saved by Obeying the Law? 155

Worship through Music in the Early Church 172

Ancient Harp 172

Ancient Household Servant 177

A Letter to the Laodiceans? 192

Timeline of Philemon 198

Map of the Setting of Philemon 198

The Book of Philemon at a Glance 200

Map of Western Asia Minor 202

Quick Facts on Philemon 203

Runaway Slaves 209

Iron Slave Collar 209

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