The city of Philippi had a long and interesting history. It was initially colonized by the people of Thasos around 360 BC. It was renamed “Philippi” by Philip of Macedon in 356 BC and was eventually abandoned in the 1 4th century after the Ottoman conquest.
By the time Paul enters the city, it was a Roman colony and enjoyed all the rights and privileges of life in Rome itself. It was situated on “The Via Egnatia” which was the main road that ran all the way from the East to Rome. According to most scholars, it had become an” Urban Political center” (Fee, Philippians, 26) and an important start for Paul’s work there.
In Acts 16, Paul along with Silas and Timothy established the church beginning with Lydia. This made the Philippian church different, primarily Gentile, and avid supporters of Paul. Everett Ferguson suggests that the city was different from most Greek cities and that is what allowed women like Lydia to own businesses (Ferguson, Early Christianity, 70-71).
The letter itself suggests that Paul wrote it from a Roman Prison (Phil. 1:12-13, 17) along with Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon. Apparently, the church is facing opposition from Jews emphasizing works over faith (Phil. 3:2,18-19). Overall, it reflects a joyful and uplifting spirit that has endeared it to generations of Christians.
There are three keywords to watch out for as you read Philippians: joy, fellowship, and Jesus. Each reflects a strong message on each subject. Joy and suffering for your faith in Jesus weave their way through the entire letter. Paul even highlights his own joy as a prisoner for Jesus and how that has strengthened his work. Fellowship is joint participation as each of us strives to live our faith in a hostile world and emphasizes the need to work together and encourage each other. Exalting Jesus with your life and choices is a major lesson in Philippians (Phil. 1:27-30). Paul encourages us all to live worthy of Jesus and his sacrifice for our sins. Only then can we stand firm in the faith and be encouraged (Phil. 2:11) and rejoice in the Lord (Phil. 3:1; 4:4).
Fee, Gordan D. Paul’s letter to the Philippians. New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995.
Ferguson, Everett. Backgrounds of Early Christianity. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993.