A Study Of The Book Of Philippians:
A verse by verse examination of the apostle Paul's epistle of joy to the beloved Philippian church.
by: Allan Turner
Ten miles inland from the harbor city of Neapolis was Philippi. It was one of the principle cities of Macedonia and was historically famous in the annals of both Greece and Rome. It was founded by and named after Philip of Macedon, the father of Alexander the Great. In Roman history, Philippi was best known for the battle that took place there in 42 B.C. between the Second Triumvirate (Octavius, Antonius, and Lepidus) and the republicans of Rome under Brutus and Cassius, which resulted in the defeat and death of the latter. After the victory, Octavius made Philippi a colony (cf. Acts 16:12). After the battle of Actium in 31 B.C., Augustus transported a large number of Roman veterans to the colony and granted it the status of jus Italicum, which placed it on a par with the Roman colonies of Italy. Consequently, Philippi considered itself as being an entirely Roman city. Its citizens were Roman citizens who enjoyed all the rights and privileges of such: exemption from scourging, from arrest except in extreme cases, and the right to appeal to the emperor. The official language was Latin. They were governed by their own magistrates who took great pride in calling themselves Praetors. These appeared in public with attendant lictors who bore the official bundles of rods or fasces with a mace protruding from the center which were the symbols of Roman power and authority.
From our point of interest, Philippi is the first place in Europe where the gospel was preached. The story of the founding of the church at Philippi is told by Luke in Acts 16:11-40. Apparently, the Jewish population of Philippi was so small that they did not even have a synagogue in which to worship, only a “place where prayer was customarily made” by the riverside. The first convert, Lydia, as exhibited by her conduct in offering her house and hospitality to Paul and his entourage, was a generous and kind woman, and her actions set the tone of generosity for this church. In Philippians 4:15,16, this church sent gifts to Paul who was then in Thessalonica. And, of course, this present epistle returns thanks for a gift sent by the hand of Epaphroditus while Paul was in Rome during his first imprisonment. This church, along with the other churches of Macedonia, had made a name for themselves when it came to liberality (II Corinthians 8:1-5). What a joyful occasion their concern for Paul must have been to him. Consequently, it should not surprise us to hear him refer to them as “my beloved and longed-for brethren, my joy and crown” (Philippians 4:1).
Even though things began and continued well at Philippi, soon after the conversion of Lydia and her household, persecution lifted up its ugly head. Perhaps to demonstrate that the Lord's work is advanced by difficulties and discouragements, rather than by ease and prosperity, Paul and Silas are brought into conflict with heathen superstition in one of its worst forms, and with the rough violence of colonial authorities. In expelling a demon from a slave girl, who had been a source of much gain for her masters, Paul incurs the wrath of these men, who then falsely accuse Paul and Silas of teaching “customs which are not lawful for us, being Romans, to receive or observe” (Acts 16:21). This appeal to political prejudice resulted in the imprisonment and beating of Paul and Silas, who were subsequently released from prison by an earthquake. As a result of all this, more people are converted to Christ, including the Philippian jailor.
When Paul left Philippi in the year 52, Timothy and Luke remained behind to build up the new church. Timothy soon followed Paul, and when he was sent back to Macedonia from Athens, he probably again visited Philippi. Luke, it would seem, continued to work in Philippi. His first “we” section (Acts 16:11-40) ends with Paul's departure from Philippi and the second does not begin until Paul again returns to the city (Acts 20:5,6). This occurred in 58, when Paul and the servants of the churches took the great collection to Jerusalem (Acts 20:4). Paul had actually been in Philippi the previous summer when on his way from Ephesus to Corinth he spent some time in Macedonia (II Corinthians 2:13). Therefore, Paul was in Philippi on three different occasions. His second visit was probably his longest. It seems very likely that his second letter to the Corinthians, which was written while he was in Macedonia, was written in Philippi.
Timothy is mentioned along with Paul in this epistle (1:1). He was with Paul when the church was established. As was mentioned earlier, when Timothy was sent back to Thessalonica from Athens, he probably went back to Philippi (I Thessalonians 3:1,2,6). Timothy was also in Philippi when Paul sent him by land on an extended commission from Ephesus to Corinth prior to Paul's own slower journey over the same land route. This occurred in 57. Finally, Timothy was in the group that took the collection from Corinth to Jerusalem via Philippi (Acts 20:4). Timothy's connection with Philippi cast light on the statements Paul made about him in Philippians 2:19-23. Once more this faithful and beloved servant of Paul's is being sent to this beloved church.
The Occasion For And Date Of This Epistle
In Paul's time, letters were written to people at a distance when opportunity presented itself to forward them to their destination. In this particular case, Epaphroditus was about to return to Philippi (2:38). He had brought Paul a gift and also possibly a letter from the Philippian church (4:1-14,17,18). Verses that intimate he may be replying to a letter are found in 1:12; 1:19; 1:25f; 2:26; 3:2; and 4:10-13. But, even if he had not recently received a letter from them, he had received their generous gift. As Epaphroditus was about to go back to Philippi, Paul took the opportunity to send his warm expression of gratitude, along with his fervent admonition to steadfastness and humility. Also, and maybe even more importantly, this epistle was an opportunity for Paul to inform his beloved brethren just how his appeal was proceeding.
Although the epistle does not easily lend itself to outline form, we gather the following from this letter: Paul wrote (1) to express his appreciation for their fellowship in the gospel, his confidence in their progress, and his ambition for them (1:3-11); (2) to report his circumstances, hopes, and fears (1:12-26); (3) to exhort them to unity, humility, and consistency (1:27-2:18); (4) to inform them of his purpose to send Timothy and Epaphroditus to them (2:19-30); (5) to warn them against the Judaizers (3:1-14) and the antinomianists (3:15-4:1); (6) to appeal for the reconciliation of Euodia and Syntyche (4:2,3); (7) to admonish them to joyfulness, prayerfulness, and the pursuit of all that is good (4:4-9); (8) to express his gratitude for their recent gift (4:10-20); and (9) to send his greetings (4:21-23).
The letter was clearly written from Rome by Paul while he was in “chains” in the Praetorium. He sends greetings from “Caesar's household” (4:22), indicates that he expects something to happen very soon concerning his appeal (1:20-26), and expresses confident hope that he will visit the Philippians again (1:26; 2:24). This all points to Paul's first imprisonment in Rome, which we know lasted for “two whole years” (Acts 28:30). In must have been written during the end of these two years, which would make the date somewhere around A.D. 63. Considerable preaching had already been done in Rome since Paul's arrival (1:12-18). Furthermore, his case is on verge of a final decision (1:12,13,23-26). This could not have been the case during his early months in the city. In addition, considerable time was needed for the events to transpire that lie between Paul's arrival at Rome and the writing of this letter. (1) News of Paul's arrival had to travel to Philippi; (2) Epaphroditus had to come from Philippi; (3) the news of his illness while at Rome had to get back to Philippi; and (4) the news of the Philippians' concern for Epaphroditus had to get back to Rome. Many scholars believe that Philippians is the last of the so-called four “Prison Epistles.”