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The Access Bible New Revised Standard Bible, written and edited with first-time Bible readers in mind.

The Letter of Paul to the Philippians - Introduction

Philippians, a friendly and joyful letter, expresses themes of relinquishing one's status for others ( 2.6–11 ), presence and absence ( 1.27; 2.12, 24 ) and Paul's longing for this church ( 4.1 ), the oneness of thought and deeds ( 2.2; 4.2 ), and giving and receiving ( 4.15–19 ). Above all, it commends friendship. References to joy—present, desired, or expected ( 1.4, 18, 25; 2.2, 17–19, 29; 3.1; 4.1, 4, 10 )—encourage a positive attitude about circumstances which otherwise appear sullen and sordid.

Located on the coast of northern Greece about ninety miles northeast of Thessalonica and named for Philip II, king of Macedonia (359–336 BCE), Philippi was a Roman colony heavily populated with war veterans. According to both Paul and Acts the church at Philippi was the first church Paul established in his mission to the gentiles * of ancient Macedonia (Phil 4.15; 1 Thess 2.2; Acts 16.11–15 ). The relationship between Paul and this church was long and dear, for Paul mentions how often the community shared in a partnership with him ( 4.16; 2 Cor 8.2 ). The names in the letter (Epaphroditus, Euodia, Syntyche, and Clement) are Greek, and the two women appear to be quite prominent. Archaeological investigations have shown that women were leaders in some of the cults at Philippi. From Acts we know that one woman, Lydia, was Paul's first convert (Acts 16.4 ) at Philippi.

Paul assuredly wrote the letter from prison ( 1.7 ), but it is not clear where or why he wrote or whether it is a combination of several letters. He may have been in Rome, Caesarea, Ephesus, or Corinth. Depending on where it was written, it could date from 50 CE (Corinth); 54–57 CE (Ephesus); 58–60 CE (Caesarea); and the early sixties CE (Rome).

Philippians appears to some scholars to be a combination of letters because there is an apparent break at the beginning of ch. 3 and Paul only gives thanks for a gift at the end of the letter, although he has had ample opportunity before. These scholars would divide it into Letter 1 ( 4.10–20 ), Letter 2 ( 1.1–3.1; 4.4–7, 21–23 ), and Letter 3 ( 3.2–4.3; 4.8, 9 ). Against this division, however, are the similarity between 3:2–4 and the rest of the letter, the similar kinds of opposition in 1.28–29 and 3.2–4.3 , themes of friendship and enmity throughout, and the echoes in the later thanks (a strategic postscript rather than an afterthought) of earlier themes such as joy ( 4.10; 1.4 ); gospel ( 4.5; 1.4 ); fruit ( 4.17; 1.11 ) and glory of God ( 4.20; 1.11 ).

How do the letter's many themes relate to its main purpose? Paul may be using the different themes to address two distinct but related problems: external intimidation and internal strife. Paul delicately offers a single solution, a new understanding of honor. The church will not be intimidated by outsiders if it behaves as if the prestige associated with the day of the Lord, when its members will gain true honor through their conformity to the body of Jesus' glory, is already the standard for their view of honor, or is the type of honor by which their lives are informed ( 3.20 ). The church will be unified if it lives, in accordance with this end-time orientation, in a “manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” ( 1.27 ), renouncing status distinctions and seeking each others' interests for God's glory ( 2.5–11 ).

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