Philippians 1:1 identifies the Apostle Paul and Timothy as the writers of this book. Both men are described as “servants of Christ Jesus.” Although both are mentioned, the book is written in the singular, (I, me, my) thus indicating that the apostle Paul did the actual writing. Timothy was a younger evangelist who spent much time with Paul (see Acts 16:1-5).
This letter was written “to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi” (Philippians 1:2; see also 4:15). Special mention is made of “overseers and deacons.” These would be leaders in the church at that city.
The apostle Paul’s first missionary journey was to the region of Asia that is a part of modern day Turkey. When he began his second missionary journey, he started back into the same area. However, God had something else in mind for him and kept pushing him westward. One night, in the city of Troas, located on the edge of the Aegean Sea, Paul had a vision of a man from Macedonia saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” We are told that “immediately” Paul made plans to carry out God’s will of taking the gospel into Europe (see Acts 16:6-10).
Paul’s journey took him first to Samothrace and then on to Neapolis. He spent little time there, but moved on to the city of Philippi, which is described as “a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony” (see Acts 16:11-12). The city had enjoyed a quiet, pastoral existence until gold was discovered. Soon thereafter, Philip of Macedon, Alexander the Great’s father, seized the area and named it after himself. Later, under Roman rule, the city was given status as a Roman colony and became home to many of its soldiers. Because of the designation as a colony, it was governed by Roman law which gave certain privileges such as self-government and exemption from the heavy burdens of Roman taxation. This background became important to Paul when he was falsely imprisoned in the city (see Acts 16:35-40).
The evangelization of the city began along the bank of a river with the conversion of a woman named Lydia (see Acts 16:12-15) and moved from there to the Philippian jail where the jailor and his whole household were converted (see Acts 16:16-34). From that beginning, a close relationship developed between the Christians in Philippi and Paul the apostle and missionary. Paul visited them on his third missionary journey also (see Acts 20:1-6). He discusses the hardships that he encountered there when he wrote his letter to the Thessalonians (see I Thessalonians 2:2). In his letter, he makes mention of the partnership and gifts that were shared between them (Philippians 1:5 and 4:14-20). As one reads the book of Philippians he becomes aware of the close relationship that existed between the two.
At the time of the writing of the book of Philippians the apostle Paul was in prison in Rome, Italy. This imprisonment is described in Acts 28:16-31. The Philippians had sent a preacher, Epaphroditus, with a gift from them to Paul (Philippians 4:14-18). In the process, Epaphroditus became deathly ill (Philippians 2:25-28). The church at Philippi had heard of this and was concerned about him. Therefore, Paul wrote a message to the church and then sent Epaphroditus back with it. To keep the lines of communication open, he promised to send Timothy to them soon (Philippians 2:19-24) and adds that he hoped to visit them himself in the near future. We do not know if that visit ever took place. If it did, it is not recorded in the New Testament.
At the time of this writing, Paul knew that there were some people taking advantage of his situation of being in prison to preach out of motives of envy and rivalry (Philippians 1:15). He had a friend who had nearly died, who had come to visit him and report on the work in the city of Philippi (Philippians 2:27). The report he had received indicated that some dear members of the church were feuding (Philippians 4:2-3). Yet in the midst of this, Paul writes his most joy-filled letter. The word “joy” or another similar word appears several times in this short letter. Paul declares, “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice” (Philippians 4:4).
Written in about 61-62 A.D., Philippians is one of at least four letters that Paul wrote from a Roman prison and together they (Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon) make up what is known as “the prison epistles.” Even while in prison Paul looked for opportunities to preach, had advanced the gospel successfully amongst the imperial guard (Philippians 1:12-13) and made disciples within the household of Caesar (Philippians 4:22).
As has been mentioned, a recurring theme of the book of Philippians is “rejoice.” Under better circumstances one might say, “Of course, those who are Christians should rejoice.” However, when one considers the situation in which Paul found himself and realizes that he was still encouraging believers to rejoice, this is a truly awesome theme. In spite of it all, Paul assured the Philippians that, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content” (Philippians 4:11b). When one reaches the level of spiritual maturity Paul expressed in Philippians 1:21, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain,” rejoicing in the midst of unpleasant circumstances will become easier.
In addition, one of the greatest lessons in attitude that can be taught is addressed in Philippians 2:1-11. Using Jesus Christ as the example, Paul exhorts each one of us to develop the mind of Christ within ourselves.
A final theme that must be considered is that of the gospel vs. those of the circumcision party who taught following the Law of Moses and especially circumcision is the way to salvation. On nine occasions, Paul refers to “the gospel” and the salvation that comes through it (Philippians 1:5, 7, 12, 16, 27 [twice]; 2:22; 4:3 and 15). By contrast, he encourages them to “Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh” (Philippians 3:2). While he had the most to brag about as far as the Law was concerned, he stated, “whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:7-8).
Theme of the book: Romans 1:16-17
III. Israel and salvation: Romans chapters 9-11
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