- Introduction (1:1-11)
- News about himself (1:12-26)
- Living the Christian life (1:27- 2:18)
- Sending Timothy and Epaproditus (2:19-30)
- Instructions and exhortations (3:1- 4:9)
- Thanksgiving for the Philippian gift (4:10-20)
- The concluding greeting and benediction (4:21-23)
Authorship, date, and background
Paul wrote this letter to the Philippians. This has been the universal view of the church across the centuries and there are no good reasons to question it. Philippians, Philemon, Ephesians, and Colossians constitute the "prison letters" of Paul. The letter was composed around A.D. 60-61 and the place from which it was written was Rome. Other cities such as Ephesus and Caesaria have been suggested, but there are no cogent reasons for ruling out Rome.
A special relationship developed between Paul and the Philippian church. He came to Philippi on his second missionary tour, believing that God had specifically called him and his co-laborers to work in Macedonia. Paul had a vision in which "he saw a man over in Macedonia, Greece,, pleading with him, 'Come over here and help us'." Paul took this vision to mean "God was sending us to preach the Good News there" (Acts 16:9, 10). When Paul came to Macedonia he left Asia for Europe. And many were the numbers of people converted and churches founded in Europe as a result of that vision and Paul's prompt response to it. There were Jews in Philippi, not enough of them to form a synagogue. Thus it was to be a Gentile church, which had for its early members Lydia, the Roman jailer, and probably the demon-possessed slave girl whose deliverance brought about Paul's and Silas' beatings. Clement, Euodia, and Syntyche were won to Christ either at this time or later. When Paul departed from Philippi, Luke remained there to carry on the ministry.
The ties between Paul and this church were close and binding. Paul visited Philippi at the end of his third missionary tour, prior to spending the winter at Corinth (Acts 20:1-3; 2 Cor.11:9). With the coming of spring he returned to Philippi where he spent the Passover season among these beloved friends (Acts 20:3, 6). Apparently letters were written to and received by Paul from the Philippians at various times. This letter is the most personal one of all the apostle wrote and which appear in the Scripture. In it he was to speak about his personal life and his ambitions.
Characteristics and content
Paul writes a letter to his beloved friends at Philippi who have assisted him materially in the spread of the gospel by their gifts for his work. "I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that…your care of me hath flourished again" (4:10). Paul well knows that those who help him will be properly rewarded as though they themselves had preached the gospel to the people he has reached. He emphasizes the gospel (Good News) in this short letter by referring to it nine times. He speaks about the Philippians helping him in the spread of the gospel (1:5); his imprisonment furthering the gospel (1:12); the brethren being more bold to speak the Word (1:14); the Philippians "striving together for the faith of the gospel" (1:27); and his appreciation for the women who labored with him in the gospel (4:3).
The second refrain of this letter has to do with joy and rejoicing. Paul prayed for them with joy (1:4); he would continue to live for their joy (1:25); he urges them to unify to fulfil his joy (2:2); and he tells them, "Rejoice in the Lord alway and again I say, Rejoice" (4:4).
Paul speaks about advancing the faith in suffering as he faces death. He calls for the living of a holy life, using Jesus as our model, and states what the believers' Christian duties are. Along with exhortations, he mentions he will send Timothy and Epaphroditus to them. The latter has been sick unto death, but God preserved him. He closes with the admonition that they always be full of joy (4:4) even as he thanks them for their gift and assures them in the closing chapter that God will give them peace (4:7), power (4:13), and provision (4:19).