The Book of Philippians

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By Raymond Harris
Regarding Scripture: Ephesians

Note to the Reader – I encourage you to invest additional time reading the letter of Philippians in conjunction with this article.

The Book of Philippians

As this month begins, we will be looking at Paul’s epistle (letter) to the Philippians. This letter is one of Paul’s prison writings1 and includes several references to personal events, for example:

  • 1.12-14 – Paul’s imprisonment,
  • 1.21-24 – Paul’s emotional struggle with life and death,
  • 2.19-23 – Timothy’s service with Paul, and
  • 2.25-30 – Epaphroditus’s near death illness.

We need to keep in mind that the congregation of saints at Philippi was established at some time during Paul’s Second Missionary Journey (AD/CE 51-54). Acts 16.12-40 records some of Paul’s efforts in Philippi. Regarding Philippi itself, Acts 16.12 states that it was the “chief city of that part of Macedonia and a colony” and that Luke and Paul remained in that area for “certain days” however the biblical text does not reveal the exact length of time. While in Philippi, Paul and Luke met, taught and converted Lydia and her household and during that time Paul and Silas were imprisoned, but sang, and during the night’s events taught and converted the prison keeper and his household. So by the time Paul wrote this Philippian epistle, he had history with and was familiar with (at least some of) the saints at Philippi.

This book holds many teachings that are worth our investigation, like joy and humility, but following this introduction we will be limited to no more than three as we navigate through the chapters. So I encourage you to join me this month as we begin our look at Philippians.

Some Philippian History
The first recipients were citizens of Philippi, who are described by Paul as “saints in Christ Jesus”.2 This city that these saints called home was named in honor of Alexander the Great’s father, Philip II of Macedon. He named the city after himself since he was instrumental in providing improvements.3 Also, Philippi plays an important role in the history of Rome. It was the city where “the decisive battle was fought between Antony and Brutus that overthrew the Republic. [And it was where] Brutus and Cassius destroyed themselves.”4

Following important political events in 31 BC/BCE, Philippi was selected as a “military colony with special privileges of citizenship”5 and served as a type of guard for the crossing highway routes between Asia and Europe. Accordingly, these people were “[p]roud of their citizenship, [and referred to] themselves ‘Romans’ Acts 16:21).”6 While the inhabitants could speak Latin, the official language, they were also familiar with Greek, the common daily language.7 Paul was aware of Philippi’s importance and role as a culture exchange, a crossroads, and its established place in history. Because of this, Paul’s statement in Philippians 3.20 becomes more powerful – a Christian’s citizenship is not primarily of the country of origin, conversely, the Christian’s citizenship is in heaven.

Some Philippian Trivia
As we close, let us see some factoids that come from the NIV Archeological Study Bible.8 These provide additional points of interest which can enrich one’s reading of Philippians. Here they are:

  1. Philippi was a wealthy town because of nearby gold and silver mines (1.1)
  2. The “whole palace guard” was a contingent of soldiers numbering several thousand, many of whom would have had personal contact with Paul or would have been assigned individually to guard him during the course of his imprisonment (1.13)
  3. The winner of the Greek races received a wreath of leaves and sometimes a cash reward (3.14)
  4. “Those who belong to Caesar’s household” were not blood relatives of the emperor but those employed (as slaves or freedmen) in or around the palace area (4.22).

Endnotes

  1. The prison epistles are considered to be written during Paul’s two-year house arrest in Rome (AD/CE 62-63), Dickson New Analytical Study Bible, King James Version, p. 1343, ISBN 0-529-06194-5. Depending on source, the prison epistles include Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon.
  2. Philippians 1.1
  3. Dickson New Analytical Study Bible, King James Version, p. 1356, ISBN 0-529-06194-5.
  4. Ibid.
  5. The King James Study Bible, Thomas Nelson Publishers, p.1844.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Archaeological Study Bible, New International Version, p. 1926, ISBN-10: 0-310-92605-X.
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