Equalled only by Philemon, Philippians is the most personal of Paul's letters. Among the categories listed by ancient theorists (Malherbe 1988 ), it combines features of a hortatory ‘letter of friendship’ (Fee 1995: 214) with those of a ‘patronage letter’ (Bormann 1995: 161–205). Unusually for Paul, the OT is seldom cited; his argument is passionately centred on Christ, yet he often uses Stoic language (see PHIL E).
Although the letter's contents are conditioned by practical matters, the main emphasis is on strengthening the commitment and faith of the Philippian Christians, as was Paul's regular aim (Meeks 1983: 84–107). He urges them to follow the example of Christ in union with him (repeatedly expressed by ‘sharing’, koinōnia and its compounds), so as to grow in a Christlike mindset guiding both belief and action. This is expressed by several recurring verbs, especially phronein, ‘think’ or ‘feel’, which, together with ‘rejoice’, chairein, virtually structures the letter, creating a major inclusio from beginning to end.