Date: c. A.D. 60 or 61
Paul wrote the letter to the Philippians while in prison in Rome. He had visited the city on his second missionary journey as described in Acts 16:11-40. Paul had been fairly well received there until he cast the demon out of a slave girl who made money for her owner by foretelling the future. Paul and his companion Silas were then beaten and thrown into prison. An earthquake opened the doors, but they did not escape. As a result the jailer was converted when he heard the gospel. Paul made use of his Roman citizenship to gain his freedom on the following day.
Theological Themes in the Epistle of Philippians
The letter Paul wrote to his friends at Philippi is one of the most personal in the New Testament. It does not begin with the usual assertion of authority (Paul, an apostle . . .), but rather, “Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus.” The theme of the book is that of rejoicing in the Lord. No fewer than eight times does Paul speak about how we are to rejoice in spite of our circumstances (1:18; 2:17; 2:18; 2:28; 3:1; 4:4).
It must be remembered that Paul was in prison at the time with little hope of release, virtually alone, weary from his labors of preaching the gospel, and without funds. How remarkable that Paul should stress the gratitude and joy we ought to have. He was able to do that because he had learned the secret of rejoicing, namely, we are to rejoice in the Lord. Because God does not change and is our loving heavenly Father, we need not fear. God has everything under control, so whether we are in abundance or in want, we may be content (4:1-12).
Paul also stressed his certainty that God who began the work in each believer would bring it to completion. If it were left up to us, it would be in great doubt. But because God will never fail us or push us beyond what we are able to bear, we will be able to see life through (1:6). This does not mean that we are to sit down and do nothing. We are to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling (2:12), pressing toward the goal of the upward call of God in Christ (3:14).
Another point that Paul made is that heaven awaits the believer upon death. Paul was not being morbid about it, but he realized that we all must face death sooner or later. For the believer death should hold no terrors (1:21). To die is gain because we will be entering into the presence of Jesus who loves us and gave himself for us. Paul did not know it at the time, but within a few years he was to die in the city of Rome. Paul used the life of Jesus as a model for believers to follow (2:5-11). Though Jesus was in glory with the Father he left it to die on the cross for all who would believe in him. Because of that, someday every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.
The value of prayer was stressed by Paul as the way to have true freedom from anxiety (4:4-7). The peace of God will be given to those who offer themselves to God in simple commitment. Paul gave up everything else, he said, in order to know Christ, the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his suffering and death (3:10).
Outline for the Epistle of Philippians
- Salutation and opening prayer Philippians 1:1-11
- Paul’s knowledge of Christ Philippians 1:12-30
- The example of Christ Philippians 2:1-11
- Exhortations and defense of himself Philippians 2:12-3:21
- The secret of rejoicing Philippians 4:1-23