Philippians :: Catholic News Agency

Author: Paul of Tarsus

Date Written: 61 A.D.


Paul writes Philippians as a thank you letter to the Christian community in Philippi for their monetary gift.  He is imprisoned in Rome for the faith and has no means of making a living.  Their gift shows their "concern" and supplies his "need" (4:10-11).


Philippi was a Roman colony in Macedonia on an important road called the Via Egnatia.  The emperor Augustus had made the city a settlement for retiring Roman military.  Paul visited Philippi in Acts 16, was briefly imprisoned there and then miraculously released.  He writes Philippians about 10 years after that initial visit.


Paul writes the letter to thank the Philippians for their generosity and to relate his current circumstances.  He also wishes to encourage them in the faith to be unified with one another and diligent in working out their salvation (2:2, 2:12).  He tells them of his plans to send Timothy and Epaphroditus to them and he explains Epaphroditus' health condition.  He warns them against "the dogs," the false teachers who insist Gentile Christians must follow the whole Jewish law (3:2, also see Introduction to Galatians).


Paul emphasizes the "partnership" he has with the Philippians who have worked "side by side" with him for the gospel (1:5, 4:3).  They, like he, have been suffering for the gospel in their efforts to spread it (1:29-30).  Not only that, but they have entered into a relationship of "giving and receiving" with Paul (4:15).  The Philippians support Paul's ministry and so "advance the gospel" (1:12).  He gratefully receives their support and gives them pastoral guidance in return.


Paul includes a beautiful Christological hymn (2:6-11), which has become a central text in Christian theology and prayer.  Paul encourages his readers to adopt Jesus' attitude of humility described in the hymn.  In fact much of the letter highlights the importance of humility in the life of the Church.  The path to "being in full accord and of one mind" is constituted by thinking others more important than oneself and looking to others' interests instead of one's own (2:2-4).  When the members of the Church act this way they imitate Christ's humility and "shine as lights in the world" (2:15).


Timothy was Paul's number-one disciple and most trusted advocate.  He earns Paul's most profound endorsement and will soon be on his way Philippi to encourage the Church.  The Philippians had sent Epaphroditus to bring their gift to Paul (4:18).  Unfortunately, Epaphroditus has become ill and after his recovery, Paul feels it is best for him to return home.  Yet Paul does not want to offend the Philippians by sending him back, so he sensitively and graciously conveys his reasons stating that he will be "less anxious" if Epaphroditus returns (2:29).


Paul launches another defense of his ministry against false teachers who may come to Philippi.  He recites his qualifications as an apostle from his autobiographical details but he firmly insists that his righteousness comes from faith, not from the law (3:9).  He outlines his total surrender and suffering for the sake of the gospel, while looking forward to the "prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus" (3:8, 3:14).


As a pastor, Paul wishes to be with his flock, but his imprisonment necessitates his absence.  He expresses several times how he longs for the Philippians and hopes to return to them (1:26, 2:24, 4:1).  Yet throughout the letter Paul conveys the joy of the Christian life and

exhorts the Philippians to "be glad" and "rejoice in the Lord always" (2:18, 4:4).


By Mark Giszczak


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