Paul’s preaching to the Philippians is the first evidence we have of the gospel’s arrival in mainland Europe. Acts 16 tells us it was the Holy Spirit who brought Paul and his companions to Philippi. Paul’s usual strategy was to preach in a synagogue when he first arrived in a town, but there wasn’t one in Philippi so he met with a Jewish ladies’ prayer meeting. Lydia was a convert from this meeting and her and her whole household were baptised.
Paul lands up in trouble and is jailed, and here we have read of the miraculous conversion of the jailer. The church in Philippi was made up of Lydia and her household, the jailer, and potentially a few women from the prayer group. Paul could only have spent a few weeks at the longest in the town.
He writes the letter many years later from house arrest in Rome. The Philippian church had sent physical help to Paul under house arrest. The help was in the person of Epaphroditus. But he had become sick and almost died. This was a great concern to Paul and to the Philippians. Paul sends Epaphroditus back to Philippi with the letter we now have.
The letter is positive and loving. It is often referred to as the epistle of joy because Paul uses the word joy more than in any other of his writings. Two other notable themes are fellowship and working out our salvation. Fellowship is a concept closer than ‘a little tea after church’ for Paul. Fellowship is akin to siamese twins sharing blood. He succeeds and they succeed, they fail and he fails. He sees their relationship as that close. In chapter 2:12 he encourages them to work out their salvation. Not work for salvation, but to work it out. His primary way for us to work it out is to co-operate with Christ working within each of us. And for this Paul is full of joy. He is so thrilled and assured by Christ’s working power in each person that the whole letter has the tone of praise and glorious hope. How uplifting a read!