An Overview of Philippians

It's helpful to know the circumstances in which Paul's epistles were written.

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It's helpful to know the circumstances in which Paul's epistles were written. This excerpt from the Spurgeon Study Bible gives an overview look of the book of Philippians.

Circumstances of Writing
Paul the Apostle wrote this short letter, a fact that no scholar seriously questions. The traditional date for the writing of Philippians is during Paul’s first Roman imprisonment (AD 60-62); few have challenged this conclusion.

Paul planted the church at Philippi during his second missionary journey (AD 51) in response to his “Macedonian vision” (Acts 16:9-10). This was the first church in Europe.

The text of this letter from Paul suggests several characteristics of the church at Philippi. First, Gentiles predominated. Few Jews lived in Philippi, and, apparently, the church had few. Second, women had a significant role (Acts 16:11-15; Philippians 4:1-2). Third, the church was generous. Fourth, they remained deeply loyal to Paul.

Philippi, the ancient city of Krenides, had a military significance. It was the capital of Alexander the Great, who renamed it for his father Phillip of Macedon, and it became the capital of the Greek Empire (332 BC). The Romans conquered Greece and in the civil war after Julius Caesar’s death (44 BC), Antony and Octavius repopulated Philippi by allowing the defeated armies (Brutus and Cassius) to settle there (800 miles from Rome). They declared the city a Roman colony. It flourished, proud of its history and entrenched in Roman political and social life. In his epistle to the Philippians, Paul alluded to military and political structures as metaphors for the church.

Paul wanted to thank the church for their financial support (4:10-20). He also addressed disunity and the threat of heresy. Disunity threatened the church, spawned by personal conflicts (4:2) and disagreements over theology (3:1-16). The Heresy came from radical Jewish teachers. Paul addressed both issues personally and warmly.

The church at Philippi sent Epaphroditus to help Paul in Rome. While there he became ill (2:25-28). The church learned of Epaphroditus’ illness, and Paul wished to ease their concern for him. Some people possibly blamed Epaphroditus for failing his commission, but Paul commended him and sent him home. Perhaps Epaphroditus carried this letter with him.

Contribution to the Bible
Paul’s letter to the Philippians teaches us much about genuine Christianity. While most of its themes may be found elsewhere in Scripture, it is within this letter that we can see how those themes and messages impact life. Within the New Testament, Philippians contributes to our understanding of Christian commitment and what it means to be Christlike.

Philippians can be divided into four primary sections. Paul had definite concerns that he wanted to express, and he also wrote to warn about false teachers who threatened the church. Many of Paul’s letters can be divided into theological and practical sections, but Philippians does not follow that pattern. Paul’s theological instruction is woven throughout the fabric of a highly personal letter.

Charles Spurgeon on Philippians
Paul had not yet reached his own ideal of what a Christian might be. He had not yet obtained from Christ all that he expected to obtain. He was not sitting down to read and be thankful, but he was still hurrying on, reaching after something that was yet beyond him. He could not say, “Soul, take your ease, you have much goods laid up for many years,” but he still felt his own spiritual poverty, and he cried, “Not that I have already reached the goal or am already perfect,” and he continued reaching.

Excerpted from the CSB Spurgeon Study Bible, Copyright © 2017 by B&H Publishing Group. Used by permission.