Philippians – Background

This Tuesday, we are beginning our study of Paul’s letter to the Philippians. This letter is one of thanksgiving and rejoicing written by Paul late in his ministry to the first church he founded in Europe. Before Tuesday, please read the entirety of the letter. It is only four chapters and should take about 15 minutes. Also, please read about Paul’s visits to Phillipi in Acts 16 and 20:6 and Paul’s characterization of the congregation in 2 Corinthians 8:1-7.


The city of Philippi that Paul visited had a great royal history. Philippi is located at the northern edge of the Aegean Sea near the confluence of two rivers and near gold mines. Philip of Macedonia (Alexander the Great’s father) founded and endowed the City on the site of an older village in 357 BC. In 42 BC it was the site of the Battle of Philippi where the forces of the Second Triumvirate (Mark Antony, Lepidus, and Octavius) defeated the Republican forces of Brutus and Cassius (the assassinators of Julius Ceasar). After this victory, Phillipi was reorganized as a Roman city, under Roman law and custom, and resettled with the victorious legion soldiers and their families.

This history is important to our understanding of Philippians in two ways. First, in Acts 16, both the citizens of the city and Paul himself appeal to Roman law and custom. vv. 12, 21, 37. Also, the city and the Christian congregation are ethnically homogeneous – there are no Jews only Latins. Unlike most of his letters, Paul is not having to referee between the Jewish and Gentile members of his congregation, and there are (almost) no references to the Old Testament.

Paul’s Situation:

Paul wrote this letter while in prison in Rome. In Acts 21:27, Paul was arrested in Jerusalem by the Temple authorities (the ones that had arrested Jesus). Paul, however, was a Roman citizen and invoked his right to appeal the charges to Ceasar in Rome. Acts 25:12. Acts ends with Paul under house arrest in Rome awaiting his hearing. Acts 28:16-31.

Rome expected prisoners (or their friends and families) to support themselves. The Philippians had sent one of their members, Epaphroditus, to visit Paul and to give him a monetary gift for his support. The Philippians had always monetarily supported Paul’s ministry. 2 Cor. 8:3. Phil. 4:15. In one of the last letters Paul wrote before his execution, he rejoices with his first partners in his ministry and reminds them of the person they both work for.

On Tuesday, we will begin in Acts 16 with the founding of the church and then begin discussing our way slowly through the letter. If you want to go a little deeper into the letter, I am using N. T. Wright’s Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters and Ben Witherington’s Paul’s Letter to the Philippians. These books are not required.

Dinner is at 6. The menu is meatball paninis. Discussion about 6:45. Compline at 8. Please come and bring a friend. All you need is a bible.

I rejoice, and I rejoice together with all of you; in the same way also you should rejoice and rejoice together with me. Phil 2:17b-18

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