How to Read Philippians

The Book of Philippians


Planting a garden requires the right tools. And so does interpreting the Bible. But instead of shovels, rakes, and weeders, we use observation, interpretation, contextualization, and application. 

Philippians teaches about Christ's humility as central to the gospel. This video from The Bible Project provides an overview of the book. The goal of this post is not to replace your personal study of the Bible. Rather, it is to help you navigate the structure of Philippians, discover what it teaches, dive into how it fits into the rest of the Bible, and look at how it applies to your life. Use these questions as a guide as you watch this video.   



Now that you have an overview of Philippians in mind, you can apply what you know to interpret specific passages in Philippians. Read Philippians 2:1–11. Utilize observation, interpretation, contextualization, and application to dissect the meaning of this passage. Use the ideas from the videos to inform your answers to the following questions about Philippians 2:1–11.  

Philippians 2:1-11 (ESV)

Christ’s Example of Humility

1So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy,2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.3Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.4Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,7but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.8And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,10so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.



Observation asks the basic question: who, what, where, and when. It examines the passage at a surface level—the characters, events, themes, culture, and genre. Observations may seem obvious at first, but they open the door to the meaning of any part of the Bible. Be careful to not jump ahead to interpreting the observations, or assigning them meaning. Just list them. 

Example: Paul told the Philippians Christians to do nothing out of selfish ambition.

Observe: As you read the passage, what observations did you make about Philippians 2:1–11? (Consider the major characters, locations, time period, background information, cultural aspects, genre, themes, and actions of the characters. Also, take note of any information offered in the video.)
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Where an observation determines what the passage says, interpretation takes the next step to find out what the passage means. We’ve asked what the passage says about God and humanity, and now we ask what that means. Look at the themes and ask what they mean as well.

Example: (Observation) Paul told the Philippians Christians to do nothing out of selfish ambition. (Interpretation) Part of being imitators of Christ includes doing nothing selfishly. Selfish ambition is not a characteristic of Christ nor His followers.

Interpret: What is significant about each of the observations you made above? What is the main message of Philippians 2:1–11? How does its message connect with the main message of all of Philippians? (Think about what this book teaches about God and humanity and what that teaching means, as well as the meaning of the themes. Consider insights from the video as well.)
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Contextualization looks at how the passage fits into the rest of the book and into the story of the Bible. It connects the themes that pop up throughout the story of Scripture and sees how the book fits into the biblical narrative. 

Example: We see in the rest of Philippians that Jesus' humble work is the foundation of Christian faith and practice. Humility—not selfishness—is often commended by God in the rest of Scripture. Moses was described as the most humble man on earth. The prophets often exemplified what it means to live humbly. And Jesus gives us the ultimate example of humility because He never operated out of selfish ambition.

Contextualize: What themes does Philippians 2:1–11 seem to establish? How do those themes connect with the rest of the book of Philippians? What themes would you say have potential to carry forward into other books of the Bible? What themes connect back to the Old Testament?
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Application asks, “So what?” It considers how the meaning of this passage applies to our day-to-day lives. The point of reading Scripture isn’t to become puffed up with knowledge, but to be transformed. Ask God to show you how you can specifically put the truths from this book into practice. Brainstorm ways you can live out what you learned throughout your day.

Example: Since I am to do nothing out of selfish ambition, I should check my motivations frequently. Why do I want to volunteer at church? Am I genuinely wanting to serve? Or do I want other people to praise me? Why do I want to raise my hands in worship? To praise God or to seem more holy? When the Holy Spirit convicts me of selfish motivations, I should confess, pray, and repent, asking God to transform my motivations.

Apply: How does the truth from Philippians 2:1–11 affect you and your relationship with God and others? What are some specific actions you could take to live out the truths found in this book this week? If you're having trouble coming up with an application of this particular passage, how could you apply the main message of Philippians to your life this week?
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 The last step in reading the Bible helps wrap everything up. We take the time to summarize the main message and implications of the book. As you summarize what you learned, it solidifies what God taught you through this video.  

Share: Now that you’ve spent time learning about Philippians, how would you explain the main points of this book to a friend? If you were going to explain what you learned to a friend, what would you say? What would you be sure to include? Why?
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Reading the Bible doesn’t have to be like weeding a garden. You can find great joy in learning about God through His Word. Read through Philippians this week. As you study, use observation, interpretation, contextualization, and application as a guide. Take the next step and put what you learn into practice. 


To learn more about The Bible Project, click here.