The church in Philippi, the first one founded by Paul in Europe, dates from the apostle’s second missionary journey. It was the first city to be evangelized in Europe as described in the account of the first known convert on the continent of Europe, Lydia, a seller of purple cloth, from Thyatira. When she accepted the gospel message the Philippian church was planted (Acts 16:12-40).
The apostle Paul was a prisoner when he penned this letter to the Philippian church. It was written most likely during his first Roman imprisonment (A.D. 60-62), during which time he also wrote Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon, the other “Prison Epistles.”
The paradox of a man in prison—rejoicing—lies at the root of what this book is all about. Such an attitude demonstrates an unusual view of life. It is a uniquely Christian view of life. It demonstrates the “mind of Christ,” which is the key to this epistle. Paul put it this way: “To me, to live is Christ” (1:21).
The primary purpose Paul had in mind, in writing this epistle, seems to have been pastoral: to reassure and encourage the Philippians. And to thank the Philippians for their love gift which was delivered by Epaphroditus.
One major theme or emphasis pervades the book and that is “living the Christian life.” Paul lived a joy-filled life and he desired the same for his readers. The word “joy” in its various forms occurs some 16 times in its four chapters. It is one of the most cheerful and attractive books in the Bible. There is little controversy or negative admonition in this upbeat letter.
Philippians is one of the most personal and affectionate of Paul’s Epistles. It reveals clearly that this congregation held a very special place in his heart. As we read it, we detect the very tender bond that existed between the great apostle and this church which he founded.
Paul knew, as did the Philippians, that true joy comes only through humble faith in the saving work of Jesus Christ, in joining ourselves with His followers and serving others in the name of Christ. This was the life experienced by the Philippian believers, and it is a life available to us today.