Philippians - Pursuing Christ to Know Him

by Thomas W. Finley

Introductory Notes on the Epistle to the Philippians


The first verse tells us that Paul and Timothy are sending this letter to the saints in Philippi. However, the pronoun “I” is seen throughout the letter, not “we.” This indicates that Paul is likely the author of the letter’s contents. However, Timothy shared Paul’s heart of love and concern for the believers in Philippi (2:19-20). Both of them had ministered to the saints in Philippi on Paul’s second and third missionary journeys. In the sense then that they shared a common spiritual concern for the Philippians, Paul can include Timothy in the greetings and thoughts of the epistle. It may be that Timothy was present with Paul when the letter was written, and Timothy may have actually written it at Paul’s direction. It could be that Timothy is also mentioned because it is expected that he will be sent shortly to Philippi (2:19, 23).

Date and place of composition

Scholars have had varying views about the place and time this letter was written. It is clear that it was written while Paul was imprisoned (1:12-17). Although Paul was imprisoned in Caesarea, the arguments for the letter being written from there seem to fall short. One reason is that the death sentence probably could not have been rendered there, but only at Caesar’s judgment in Rome. It is clear that Paul faces the possibility of a death sentence (1:20). One school of thought says that the letter was written from Ephesus, but that thesis lacks direct Scriptural support. The traditional view is that this epistle was written while Paul was under house arrest in Rome (see Acts 28:16-19, 30-31). This view seems best, especially because of Roman references in the letter (1:13; 4:22). The dates of Paul’s first imprisonment in Rome are considered to be about A. D. 61-63. During this time Paul wrote Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon and Philippians – which are often referred to as his “Prison Epistles.” This letter was very possibly the last one written during this imprisonment based on Paul’s statement in Philippians 2:24.

By way of reminder, Paul went to Rome upon his appeal to Caesar arising from the accusations of the Jewish leaders (Acts 25:7-11). The apostle was acquitted of these charges in Rome in A. D. 62 or early 63. It is likely that Paul then went on a fourth missionary journey, of which we have no explicit Scriptural details (1 Tim. 1:3; Titus 1:5).

Persecution against the Christians by the Romans began after a great fire at Rome (July 19, 64). The Roman emperor Nero blamed the local Christians for the fire. Of course, this was a false charge against the Christians.

During Paul’s second prison term he wrote his last book, 2 Timothy, from Rome in A. D. 67 or 68.

Occasion for the letter

Knowing what prompts the writing of a letter is important. Paul wrote the letter in response to the gift from the saints in Philippi brought to him by Epaphroditus (1:5; 4:10, 18). Paul also wanted to explain why he felt it necessary to send Epaphroditus back to Philippi at this time.

Purpose of the letter

Paul wrote to the Philippians expressing much thankfulness for their participation with him in the advancement of the gospel. The apostle was also deeply concerned for the need of unity among the Philippians and this subject is seen in various portions of the epistle. Most importantly, this letter reveals the apostle’s heart as one full of the pursuit of Christ in order to know Him more intimately. So Paul wrote to spur the Philippians into such a single-minded pursuit of knowing Christ (Phil. 3:7-17).

Philippi and Paul

The city of Philippi was a leading city in Macedonia. It was a Roman colony and served as a military outpost. The citizens of Philippi were privileged to be considered as Roman citizens. Philippi was only a few miles from the port of Neapolis and also close to a major route into Europe. This made the city one of importance for commerce and travelers. On Paul’s second missionary journey, the Lord worked in a surprising way to direct Paul and his associates to Philippi. In a night vision Paul saw a man summoning him: “Come over to Macedonia and help us” (Acts 16:9). The inspiring record of Acts 16 tells us how the church in Philippi started through the gospel received by Lydia and her household, as well as Paul’s and Silas’ jailer and his household. That took place around A. D. 52. On that journey the Philippian church began to support Paul’s gospel efforts financially (Phil. 4:15-16). This support, along with their laboring together with Paul directly (4:3), began their “partnership in the gospel” (1:5). This partnership with Paul in the gospel is an important theme in this epistle. During his third missionary journey Paul seems to have visited Philippi twice (Acts 20:1-6), and this may have been about A. D. 56-57.

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And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart" (Jer. 29:13, NASB)