Below is some background information to the book of Philippians, which was compiled by Nick Jefson. Nick is a resident at Rocky Creek, and he will be composing several posts in the coming months that will help us better understand God’s Word. It may be insights into a particular biblical passage or it may help us strengthen a biblical worldview.
Over the next few months we will be studying the book of Philippians during our morning services. Nick’s article helps us discover the context for the book and why this book is important to study.
First Things: Philippians
At the beginning of any study of Scripture, the reader should take into account the context of whatever passage is being studied. This includes the author(s), recipient(s), place, date, and key themes. These aspects help to set the writing in time and space and give context to what is written. If we are to truly understand the Word of God, we must understand the context in which the writers and readers of these books wrote and read. This post is meant to be a helpful starting point to set the scene of the letter to the Philippians. So, let’s take a brief look at the important aspects of the letter that will help us understand the context and hopefully shed some light on the meaning of what Paul writes.
Author(s): Paul and Timothy (Philippians 1:1)
Recipient: The church in Philippi (Philippians 1:1)
When: Paul most likely wrote this letter along with several others (Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon) in the early 60’s AD while under house arrest in Rome (Acts 28:17-31).
Where: Paul was most likely under house arrest awaiting trial in Rome when he wrote this letter. The city of Philippi was a city Paul visited on his second missionary journey and preached the gospel. A Christian community started there with the conversion of a rich woman whose name was Lydia, a healed demon-possessed girl, and a prison guard and his family (Acts 16). Philippi was located in modern-day Greece and was possibly the first European city in which Paul preached the Gospel and established a church.
Why: In his letter Paul thanks the Philippians for their support of his ministry and encourages them in their faith by exhorting them towards joy. He is also writing to warn them about false teachers who might lead them astray and to remind them that their righteousness is through faith alone in Christ alone. He also encourages the church at Philippi to pursue unity with one another.
While Philippians is a relatively short letter Paul makes his emphasis clear. He is writing to encourage his readers toward joy. The word for joy is found thirteen times. It is a defining characteristic of Paul’s attitude toward the believers in Philippi (1:4; 2:1-2; 4:1). Paul holds on to joy in the gospel being preached in the midst of opposition both within the church and from outside the church (1:18). Joy is the attitude Paul exudes and encourages the Philippians to have even as he is being “poured out as a drink offering” (2:17-18). Rejoicing is the proper reaction to the homecoming of a beloved brother in the faith and fellow worker in the Gospel (2:28). Joy is to be a God focused emotion that is shared with fellow brothers and sisters (3:1; 4:4; 4:10). Joy certainly seems to be on Paul’s mind as he writes the letter to the church in Philippi.
His imprisonment could not stop his joy. His hardships could not contain his rejoicing. There is seemingly nothing that could happen to him that would snuff out this joy. That is because at the bottom of his joy was Christ. The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is a firm foundation indeed. In every life circumstance and every trial, Paul knew that his value and his security was not found in anything of this world but was found in the salvation he had through faith in the person and work of Christ. Likewise, he encourages his readers, and even us today, to seek out joy and cling to it. In whatever situation we find ourselves we should be joyful. This joy is not merely happy feelings, but it is a deep and abiding state of praise in response to the mercy, grace, and love that God has shown us in Christ Jesus. So, even in these introductory issues, we can see that God is gracious and gives good gifts to His children. He has given us His Word and brought us together to worship and live in a Christian community. He has reconciled us to Himself through the death and resurrection of Christ and has given us a platform to proclaim His glory – and that is certainly worth rejoicing about.