Introduction to Philippians

By Mitch Marczewski

This weekend we begin our study through Paul's Letter to the Philippians. The Letter was a written to the church in the city of Philippi in eastern Macedonia. Founded in 358-357 B.C. by Philip the Macedon, the father of Alexander the Great, Philippi was a well-placed city sitting in an area with rich natural resources and geographical value. The proximity to gold mines and fresh springs made it a prime location as a regional hub. Philippi had an interesting history. After the Romans took the city from the Persians in 168 B.C., it became a Roman station along the Egnatian Way, an east-west road that connected Rome and Byzantium. Philippi became famous in 42 B.C. when it was the site of a battle between Brutus and Cassius (Julius Caesar’s assassins) and Antony and Octavian. Philippi was rebuilt and became a Roman colony, the highest privilege given to a provincial municipality: legal status of a Roman territory in Italy. The city was filled with Roman soldiers, and veterans from his wars; thus, Philippi was a city with a heavy Roman influence.

The founding of the church in Philippi as described in Acts 16 was one that painful for Paul, but ultimately aided in showing the grace and humility of Christ to the Philippian people. In Acts 16, the Spirit of Jesus forbade Paul to travel to Asia, but he received a vision calling him to Macedonia, where Philippi was located.  Paul and Silas travel and arrive in the Roman city of Philippi where they find a wealthy, God-fearing woman named Lydia, who becomes a follower of Christ and hosts them in her home. As they are travelling through the city, a demon-possessed woman who was very profitable to her owners follows Paul and Silas. She was a fortuneteller who was owned by local men who exploited her ability. As she followed them, proclaiming that they are servants of God, Paul and Silas cast the demon out and caused an uproar due to the economic engine of these two men being eliminated. Paul and Silas are taken in front of the magistrate and falsely accused, beaten, and thrown in prison by the people for casting the demon out of the woman. While in prison, an earthquake occurs, which frees Paul and Silas as they are singing songs to God. After the earthquake, Paul and Silas minister to the Philippian jailer, which leads to the salvation of both him and his household. Upon their release, Paul and Silas demonstrate humility when released by magistrates by revealing their Roman citizenship. In the Roman world, which is highly stratified, a Roman citizen had rights that went above and beyond the normal person. Roman citizens had the right to a trial and could not be beaten prior to a formal arraignment. Paul kept silent when first accused and waited until now to show his citizenship. Upon an apology and request to leave the city, Paul and Silas visit Lydia and the believers in Philippi before departing to Thessalonica.

The background of the city of Philippi and the founding of the Philippian church help us understand the letter written to the Philippians. Paul’s letter was one of encouragement to unity, humility and thanksgiving. Paul wrote to encourage the believers in Philippi regarding his imprisonment, to thank them for their support, to spur them on to humility and unity by providing an example in both Christ and himself. Philippians 2:5-11 is the centerpiece of the letter and is perhaps one of the greatest pieces of scripture regarding what humility looks like practically. The flow of the letter begins with opening remarks and thanksgiving for the Philippian church. Paul encourages the church that his imprisonment has actually served to further the gospel (v. 12-26). Verses 27-30 show us the two points that Paul will illustrate in the letter: unity amongst the believers and standing firm in the midst of suffering and opposition. Chapter two, vv. 5-11 included, illustrates the humility required for unity to occur and chapter three warns against the opposition they will face but encourages them to stand firm in the midst of suffering. Chapter four caps off the letter with practical exhortations to unity and holiness, instruction to rejoice in all situations, and thanksgiving for their generosity.