How Paul’s Letter to the Philippians Fits Together

This summer, as our senior pastor, Josh Moody, takes his study leave, the rest of us pastors will be filling the pulpit on Sunday mornings, preaching through Philippians.

It’s my habit to write a thematic outline of a book before I preach through it. The aim of such an outline is to determine what the theme of the book is, and to see how each part of the book contributes to that theme.

Thematic outlines provide preachers with two benefits

I had to write outlines in this way for Greg Beale and Dan Block while in grad school at Wheaton. I immediately saw the pay off for preaching when I was completing those assignments.

1. You see how the main point is woven through the book. This exposes the unity of the book, and allows you to choose a series title that is exegetically informed.

2. You see the unique features of each passage of the book. Once you see the distinct function and role of each passage, you know you won’t preach the same sermon every week.

The main point of Philippians

As far as I can tell, the main thing Paul is trying to tell the Philippians is:

Rejoice in suffering for the gospel together.

This short phrase brings out the four main themes of the letter: joy/rejoicing, suffering, gospel ministry, and fellowship/unity.

My thematic outline below shows how this main point, and those four themes, are brought out in the flow of the letter.

A thematic outline of Philippians

I. Salutation (1:1-2)

II. Why you should rejoice in suffering for the gospel (1:3-26)

A. Rejoice in suffering for the gospel because it draws you into closer fellowship with other believers (1:3-11)

B. Rejoice in suffering for the gospel because it opens new opportunities to spread the gospel (1:12-18a)

C. Rejoice in suffering for the gospel because it results in you being with Christ, or continued service for Christ (1:18b-26)

III. Live worthy of the gospel in the midst of suffering (1:27-2:30)

A. Living worthy of the gospel requires unity (1:27-30)

B. Living worthy of the gospel requires humility (2:1-11)

C. Living worthy of the gospel requires obedience (2:12-18)

D. Two examples of living worthy of the gospel (2:19-2:30)

IV. The reward for suffering for the gospel is surpassingly valuable (3:1-4:1)

A. The reward of Christ himself and attaining his resurrection (3:1-11)

B. The reward of the prize of the upward call in Christ Jesus (3:12-16)

C. The reward of the transformation of our lowly body into one like Christ’s glorious body (3:17-4:1)

V. Three ways to maintain peace in the midst of suffering for the gospel (4:2-9)

A. Peace in relationships: agree in the Lord (4:2-3)

B. The peace of God guarding you: pray about your anxieties (4:4-7)

C. The God of peace with you: put teaching into practice (4:8-9)

VI. Rejoice in sacrificial giving and receiving for gospel ministry (4:10-20)

A. A concession regarding the Philippians’ sacrificial giving: Paul is content with much or little (4:10-13)

B. The benefit of the Philippians’ sacrificial help: Paul is amply supplied by their gift (4:14-20)

VII. Final Greeting (4:21-23)


  1. Eric,

    I really enjoy your clear and concise blog posts. It would be cool to meet you at a conference sometime.

    Question regarding Philippians . . . so based on your thematic outline, if you were to preach all the sermons through this book, would you then preach 17 messages (including an opening and closing on the opening and closing in Paul’s letter)?

    • Eric McKiddie says:

      Dan, thanks for reading. And yes, it would be cool to meet at a conference. I bumped into a few readers at T4G, and it was really fun.

      Ideally, I’d preach 11 sermons, generally preaching each “lettered” passage in the outline above. The exceptions would be that I’d combine B and C under IV, and I’d preach V and VI each in one sermon. I tend to include the opening and closings with my first and last messages.

      I think our church is going through Philippians in 10 this summer. The first time I preached through it, I think I did it in 8. I did it in 4 at a youth retreat once. I’m doing the whole letter in one sermon this Sunday! It’s that balance of pericopes and calendars!

  2. David Wail says:

    Hey Eric,
    I just ran accross this from a google search when I was getting a quick outline for small group. I look forward to reading your blog.

    G-d bless,
    Dave Wail
    Dryer 2