This artfully composed letter centers around two early Christian hymns (or confessions) that proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Around these two centers, the Apostle Paul identifies the reality of life in Christ for the Philippian Christians who will soon experience persecution for the sake of the gospel, just as Paul experiences this reality in his own imprisonment. The letter also emphasizes the joy that life in Christ brings to all believers in spite of the outward circumstances of persecution and life in the world.
Writing in the midst of his imprisonment and possibly facing martyrdom, Paul proclaims that his identity is in Christ. The reality of life is always centered in Christ, as Paul states, "For me living is Christ, and dying is gain" (1:21). Identity in Christ is the source of joy in Paul's letter to a people under persecution for the faith. Jesus Christ has claimed us as his own.
Where Do I Find It?
Paul's Letter to the Philippians is the eleventh book in the New Testament. It is situated in the midst of the "Pauline corpus," the collection of letters attributed to the Apostle Paul (the books of Romans through Philemon).
Who Wrote It?
The Apostle Paul, along with Timothy, wrote Philippians from a setting of imprisonment.
When Was It Written?
The letter expresses the imminence of Paul's death and his anticipation of a wave of persecution reaching toward Philippi. It appears, then, to be written toward the end of Paul's life while he was under house arrest in Rome, around 61-63 C.E.
What's It About?
The focus of the letter is centered in early hymns or confessions about Christ (2:6-11; 3:20) as it calls believers joyfully to live according to Christ's pattern of a servant and to expect his return as Lord and Savior.
How Do I Read It?
The letter calls readers into a living relationship with Christ, no matter what state of life one is experiencing. The endearing relationship between Paul and the Philippian community expresses the joy of life centered in Christ. The letter provides a way of understanding the living dynamic of the Christian community in the world as it faces whatever threats are present. In spite of opposition and persecution for the faith, we are called to live faithfully to the gospel because our true citizenship exists in heaven.
AUTHOR: Paul S. Berge, Emeritus Professor of New Testament