Lesson 3 of5
In Progress

Background of Philippians

The location of Philippi is strategic as the first center of Christianity in Europe. The city was located on the Egnatian Way, the east-west land and trade route through Macedonia that connected to the Appian Way, which led to Rome. Paul was a master of planting the gospel in strategic locations in the Mediterranean world. The city of Philippi had been designated a Roman colony (Acts 16:12), which granted the same status for its citizens as those living in Rome.

Paul was also a master of letter writing, composing through the hand of a trained scribe. His letter would be read in public to an audience, perhaps by a trained orator. Paul crafted this letter in such a way that the recipients who heard it read aloud could recall its contents. Imbedded in the letter, and thus in a public reading, are memory devices that would serve to recall the flow and structure of Paul’s thought and theology. Evidence of this can be seen in the pattern of concentric circles that structure the letter, leading readers to two centers where early Christian hymns proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord (2:6-11) and Savior (3:20).

Epaphroditus, who was sent by the Philippian congregation to support Paul in his imprisonment, bore this letter back to his home community. The Philippians had heard reports that Epaphroditus had not carried out their highest intention of service to Paul, but had become seriously ill. This led them to think that he had only compounded Paul’s already grave situation. Paul knows differently in the ministry he has received from Epaphroditus. Paul sends the letter with Epaphroditus to Philippi, giving him his highest commendation: “He came close to death for the work of Christ, risking his life to make up for those services that you could not give me” (2:30). Epaphroditus is the embodiment of Christ’s servant ministry in physical weakness, even as Christ “became obedient to the point of death” (2:8).