In around a.d. 50–51, Paul, with Silas and Timothy, crossed by sea from Asia Minor to the Roman province of Macedonia (northern Greece). At the seaport of Neapolis they picked up the Via Egnatia, the main Roman road linking Asia Minor to Rome. Philippi was situated about ten miles inland, a major commercial center brought under Roman control already in 168 b.c. Acts 16.12 reports its status as a “colony,” a city where many veteran Roman troops were generously settled in retirement and where Roman law applied just as in Italy. As a Roman citizen, Paul could thus count on having rights there.
Paul had been involved in establishing the church in Philippi and this letter reveals many signs of his deep affection for his Philippian friends. From chapter 1, it is clear that Paul is writing from prison. That suggests that this letter was written either from Ephesus (a.d. 54–56) or Caesarea (58–60) or Rome (61–63). Paul thanks the Philippians for their prayers and support and offers encouragement, saying that imprisonment had actually opened new doors of opportunity to proclaim the good news (1.12-14). No matter what hardships the life of Christian servanthood is likely to cause them, Paul, a prisoner who understands suffering, encourages them to, “Rejoice in the Lord always” (4.4-7). In 1.1, he calls himself “servant” (Greek doulos more accurately means “slave”) to signal the kind of self-giving lifestyle of service to God that he aims for and wants them to emulate. Paul urges “imitation” of Christ and uses a majestic hymn of “Christ the Servant” (2.5-11) to illustrate what he means. This passage remains one of the best-loved texts in the New Testament, describing so beautifully the selfless grace of Christ, who emptied himself and “took upon him the form of a servant … humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (2.7,8). The links between this model given by Christ and Paul's own self-description as servant (1.1) are obvious, and he urges the Philippians to follow his example and likewise imitate Christ.
Paul's Greeting and Thankfulness to the Philippians (1.1-11)
Living for Christ, God's Self-giving Servant (1.12—2.18)
Encouragement and Advice (2.19—4.9)
Final Words of Thanks and Greetings (4.10-23)
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