The city of Philippi was on one of the major trade routes, the Via Egnatia, a coastal city located in northern Greece, largely populated by retired Roman soldiers.
The small Jewish community seems to have worshipped outside the boundary of the city (Acts 16:13), and it was Lydia, a businesswoman, who became its first convert. Paul wrote his letter to Christian Gentile converts with a few Jewish Christians.
Philippians is one of the more popular epistles of Paul. Some of its verses are often used in prayer and liturgy, and its images reflect the Christian life.
Two letters for the price of one?
Possibly we are dealing with the remains of two or more of Paul’s letters to the Philippians, joined together. About halfway through we have the writer saying ‘Finally…’ but then that it is better to repeat a few things (3:1).
But this is not what happens because the letter moves on to new issues. The tone of the letter changes at this point with the earlier mood of joy and playfulness giving way to the harsh order: ‘Look out for the dogs’ (3:2).
A second problem is just when a messenger sent from Philippi to Paul arrives; in 2:25-27 Epaphroditus, who has been sent from Philippi to care for Paul, now back in prison, has fallen ill and the news has got back to Philippi; in 4:18 he seems to have just arrived. In those days prisons did not provide meals or any washing of clothes. Paul is sending Epaphroditus back (2:25), plans to send Timothy soon (2:19), and hopes to follow not long after (2:24).
We do not know where Paul was imprisoned; Acts 16 even tells of an imprisonment in Philippi itself. The reference to the Praetorium Guard (1:13), the emperor’s personal bodyguard, does not necessarily imply Rome as the term could refer to the residence of the provincial governor. There is so much travelling mentioned in the letter that a location in Greece or Asia Minor, perhaps Ephesus or Caesarea, makes far more sense. Paul would be accessible in a matter of weeks rather than the many months it would take for the journey from a Roman prison location.
They shared in Paul’s mission
Those in the Philippian community have gone to extraordinary effort to provide for Paul’s support. This was the only group the fiercely independent Paul accepted help financially from. In 1:5 he thanks God for the ‘partnership in the gospel from the first day until now’. He alludes to their continued financial support; twice they helped him in Thessalonica (4:16) and now they have sent him Epaphroditus. All this implies an extensive mutual contact between Paul and the Philippians. This warm and personal letter reminds us that Paul was a much loved figure to the Christians of Philippi.
Paul expresses his joy at how well they are doing and urges them to maintain the unity of their congregation. He also writes to put them at ease over their messenger, Epaphroditus, who had taken ill but was now recovered.
The Hymn to Christ Jesus
The beautiful image of sharing life dominates this, the most joyful of Paul’s letters. As partners, fellow workers, with Paul in the spread of the gospel ‘from the first day until now’ (1:5), the Philippians are subject to Paul’s warmest and tender greeting (1:1-3).
Paul then discusses his imprisonment and its effects on the progress of the gospel (1:12-26), and calls them to imitate the humility of Christ (2:1-11).
Jesus is the definitive model for Christian behaviour and action, the supreme example of the attitudes which the Philippians are to practise towards one another.
God’s goodness is already at work among them, so Paul urges them to finish what has begun in them, and by doing so, they would make his joy complete. The call is to grow in conformity to the likeness of Christ, ‘to be in the mind of Christ’ in their behaviour, action, and attitude.
Paul the person
This beautiful and intimate letter shows us a man who loves the community for which he has poured out his life and who feels the pain of its divisions. It is the pain of any pastor deeply devoted to the people of God in our time, seeing a church in need of healing and encouragement. In this letter, a sensitive and loving apostle calls Christians to the imitation of Christ for the touchstone of our Christianity is ‘having the mind among ourselves that was in Christ Jesus’ (2:5).
Meanwhile, St Paul’s School, Richmond, celebrated their feast day at the end of June by marking the start of the year’s focus on St Paul.
Here Alesha Tunley and Antoni Leonard hold images of the apostle’s life story.
The paintings were done to mark the feast of St Paul on Friday June 27 and the start of the ‘Year of Saint Paul’ declared by Pope Benedict to mark 2000 years since the apostle’s birth.
Alesha and Antoni were part of a group that painted the images.
The school held a series of events throughout the previous week which culminated in a Mass at Our Lady of Perpetual Help church in Richmond. Archbishop John Dew celebrated Mass with the school because it is the only school or parish in the archdiocese dedicated to St Paul.
The paintings were part of the school’s liturgy preparation. They will be displayed in the school for the year and then at every subsequent feast day celebration.
After the Mass, Archbishop John went to Saint Paul’s digital classroom to find out more about this initiative.