Background of Philippians
The city of Philippi in Macedonia (northern Greece) was located on the Egnatian Way, the major east-west trade route that connected to the Appian Way, which led to Rome. Paul was a master planter of 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. Many veteran Roman soldiers retired there.
A Christian missionary who once persecuted the church More was also a master letter writer, 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 could recall its contents. Embedded in the letter are memory devices, such as the concentric patterns noted above, that would serve to recall the flow and structure of Paul’s thought and theology.
Epaphroditus, a messenger sent by the Philippian congregation to support Paul in his imprisonment, bore this letter back to his home community. The Philippians received word that Epaphroditus had become seriously ill, perhaps leading them to think that he had only compounded Paul’s already grave situation. Paul, however, knows and appreciates the ministry Epaphroditus had provided him. Paul sends the letter with Epaphroditus to Philippi, with 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).