Paul’s Letter to the Philippians contains four chapter divided up into 104 verses. It is not clear when this letter was composed, or where. But, it is obvious from the contents of the letter that it was written while Paul was in jail (Wilson). The letter begins thus: “Paul and Timothy, servants of Jesus Christ” (“Paul’s Letter to the Philippians”). Nevertheless, Church Fathers are agreed that the letter was composed by Paul alone (Wilson). Fee writes that it is possible that Timothy served as Paul’s secretary and the letter had been dictated to him by the Apostle Paul.
In fact, there is evidence that Paul had used the services of a secretary. From 2 Thess 3:17, it appears that someone wrote for Paul and the latter only signed the epistles he probably dictated. Then again, scholars are not certain that Timothy served as Paul’s secretary. It is also possible that he was named the co-author of the Letter to the Philippians because the addressees knew Timothy well.
The epistle to the Philippians is considered a letter of friendship, after all. What is more, as is evident through Philippi 2:19-22, Timothy was about to visit Philippi.
According to Peterlin, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians is informal writing composed for the reason that the author was deeply fond of the addressees (2). The author does not simply preach through this letter. Rather, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians covers a variety of topics inclusive of information about the author’s situation in prison.
The Apostle Paul mentions Epaphroditus, the man sent by the Philippians, in addition to his sickness and return. He sends advice to the church and warns about dangers posed by false doctrines and teachers.
Paul acknowledges the receipt of money sent by the church. Furthermore, he offers words of counsel for all those who deal with religious persecution (Peterlin 1). Philippians was not entirely Christian, after all. Wilson provides a brief history of the city of Philippi thus: The letter was written to Christians in the Macedonian city of Philippi. Its history goes back to 361 BC, when a number of Greek settlers took over the obscure Thracian village of Krenides (“springs”). Philip II of Macedon, the Father of Alexander the Great, annexed the hole region in 356 BC and formally established Philippi as a city bearing his own name. It was fortified with an extensive city wall, part of which still survives. A garrison stationed there made it a military strong point to guard gold from the nearby mines, which enriched Philip by 1000 talents of gold each year. The Romans conquered Macedonia in 168-167 BC.
In 42 BC, Mark Antony and Octavian defeated the Roman Republican forces of Brutus and Cassius (remembered as the assassins of Julius Caesar). The victors settled many of their veteran soldiers in Philippi nd established it as a Roman colony, which grew still more when additional former soldiers were given land there. Philippi was given the high honor of the ius Italicum (“law of Italy”), which meant that it was governed by Roman law, its citizens were Roman citizens, its constitution was modeled after Rome’s, its architecture copied Roman styles, its coins bore Roman inscriptions, Latin was widely used, and its citizens wore Roman dress. In spite of a strong Roman influence, the city’s religious life was quite diverse. It included monuments reflecting emperor worship, plus Greek gods and their Roman ounterparts, especially Jupiter (known in the Greek world as Zeus). The local Thracians worshipped the goddess Artemis, while there were also sanctuaries to Egyptian gods, especially Isis and Serapis, and to the Phrygian Cybele, known as the great Mother- goddess. There was a small Jewish community, but probably not a regular synagogue congregation which would have required ten men. Instead, several women met outside the city on the Sabbath for prayer (Acts 16:13). (Wilson) Apostle Paul had come to the city of Philippi with the Gospel around the mid-50s AD.
Both Silas and Paul were on their “second missionary journey” when they were stopped “by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia” (Acts 16:6) (Wilson). Next, they tried going to Bithynia; still, “the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them” (Acts 16:7). Reaching Troas’s coast, however, they discovered why they were being stopped (Wilson). Apostle Paul was about to set up his first church in the city of Philippi (Goodspeed). In fact, Paul had a vision at the time. He saw a Macedonian literally begging him to go over to the city of Philippi to help them.
Paul believed that it was the call of God (Wilson). His belief turned out to be true. In the city of Philippi, Silas and Paul encountered a number of women worshipping God on the day of the Sabbath. They were praying by the river when they were approached by Silas and Paul. Lydia was leading them in prayer, so Silas and Paul approached her first to convey the message of the Christ. The woman was baptized with her entire family, and she invited the apostles and a group of believers to her home where the first church of Paul began (Wilson).
But, Silas and Paul also encountered persecution in Philippi. One day they ran into a slave girl who used the evil spirit to prophesize. When Paul commanded the evil spirit to leave the girl alone, she lost her power of prophecy. So, the owners of the slave girl had the apostles flogged and imprisoned. According to the infidels of the city, the apostles were charged with the crime of “throwing our city into an uproar by advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice” (Acts 16:20-21).
Prison doors were opened for the apostles when an earthquake shook the city at midnight, converting the jailor who brought his entire family to be baptized through the middle of the same night (Wilson). Still, Paul and Silas had to leave the city of Philippi early in the morning (Wilson). Wilson writes that Luke may have stayed on in the city. Moreover, the Apostle Paul visited Philippi twice after this. He kept in touch with the believers there also through his writings (Wilson).
The church of Philippi was so affectionate toward him that as soon as he had been brought to prison, a man came from the city of Philippi arrived to supply the Apostle Paul with funds to ease the course of his stay. This was loyalty on the part of the believers of Philippi. If they had not come to assist the Apostle Paul, the latter’s stay in prison would have been intolerably difficult (Goodspeed). The Letter to the Philippians is therefore meant to thank the believers of Philippi with words of consolation from their beloved, the Apostle Paul (Fee 5). Paul has not lost hope in the Gospel through the imprisonment.
Rather, he informs the Philippians that he continues to reach out to the guards, in addition to freemen, slaves, and many from Caesar’s household. What is more, the fact that he is in jail has added strength to his preaching: it has inspired other preachers of the Gospel to spread the message more vigorously than before. Paul also informs his addressees with the Letter to the Philippians that preachers of Christianity who hold different views from his have been motivated to work harder to spread the message now that Paul is in prison. Hence, his imprisonment must be looked upon as a blessing rather than a curse (Goodspeed).
Apart from unbelievers and the preachers of the Gospel who hold views about Christianity different from the Apostle Paul’s, there are two other groups of opponents mentioned in the Letter to the Philippians. These include Syntyche and Euodia who are fighting in the city of Philippi at the time the letter is composed. The other group of opponents is described by Paul as “dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh” (3:2) (Wilson). Wilson writes that Paul is referring to the Judaizers with this description, that is, those who were bent upon forcing Christians to be circumcised.
Regardless of their presence among believers, the Apostle Paul would like to encourage believers in Philippi to continue practicing their faith. Paul acts as a guide, mentor, friend and fellow Christian to the believers at Philippi, and so he would like to offer them words of hope to deal with their opponents (Wilson). Paul cannot inform the believers at Philippi exactly when he would be released and free to visit them again, which is why he mentions sending Timothy to see how they are doing. He hopes, however, that he would be able to meet fellow believers soon enough.
Although his situation is rather serious, the Apostle Paul does not despair. This is revealed through his advice to the Philippians to nurture joy, love, unity, and selflessness. He warns the addressees about the mischief of the opponents and mentions that Epaphroditus would be sent back to them as soon as he has recovered from his illness (Goodspeed). Although believers also face difficulties in life, for example, the illness of Epaphroditus, the imprisonment of Apostle Paul, and the presence of infidels in their lives – Paul is absolutely clear about the fact that the faithful ought to rejoice.
As a matter of fact, rejoicing is one of the spiritual themes of the Letter to the Philippians. Paul is confident that all believers in the city of Philippi are dwellers of the Kingdom of Heaven, which is why whenever he prays for them he does so with joy (1:4). Furthermore, the Apostle Paul expresses in the Letter to the Philippians that it does not matter whether the preachers of the Gospel are true or false in their intentions. The fact that the Gospel is being preached fills him with happiness, and that is all that matters (1:18).
Paul is convinced that he will be freed to be able to join the believers at Philippi again. He realizes his work his important, and wishes that the believers at Philippi would rejoice in his presence once more (1:25-26). He is a lover of the Lord, after all, and repeatedly reminds the faithful to continue rejoicing in the Lord despite the problems they may suffer from (Wilson). Another essential spiritual theme of the Letter to the Philippians is unity or fellowship. Paul refers to the believers at Philippi as his partners in the grace of God (1:7).
He further mentions partnership with the Holy Spirit, reminding them that they do not just require bonding among themselves but also as individuals with God (2:1). Apostle Paul mentions sharing in the suffering of Jesus Christ, too. In other words, it is not evil to suffer (3:10). He also writes that it is good for the believers at Philippi to share with him his present suffering, and that, in fact, the faithful at Philippi have been his most loyal friends during his times of suffering (4:14-15) (Wilson).
Because there are factions among the believers at Philippi, Apostle Paul reminds his addressees to stay united through the Gospel (1:27). In fact, his exhortations in this regard ask of believers to imagine that they are completely one (2:2-4). Jesus showed humility before God, so therefore Paul would like the faithful at Philippi to similarly show humility before God. Because all of them must humble themselves before God, it is possible for them to forget all about their disunity through worship (2:5-11).
Apostle Paul, therefore, advises Syntyche and Euodia to agree with the belief that they are all living in the same God (4:2). He mentions the Judaizers to remind the factions that they have other opponents, too, which is why they should seek strength in unity (3:2-3; 3:3-8) (Wilson). Both in the beginning of the letter to Philippians and through its middle, the Apostle Paul makes mention of believers living in either the Lord or Jesus Christ. The letter is addressed to all believers in Philippi, referred to as “all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi” (1:1).
Paul writes that he has been called by God toward heaven in the Christ (3:14). What is more, he would like all believers to take their stand in the Lord (4:1) (Wilson). It is in the Lord, after all, that Paul remains joyful even in prison and confident of his release. More importantly, it is essential for the Apostle Paul to remind the faithful at Philippi through the Letter to the Philippians that suffering is actually a blessing in the Lord and nothing to feel sorrowful about. Thus, the Letter to the Philippians is intended to add faith to the present faith of the believers in Philippi.
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