Paul and the Philippians

In my last post I described Paul’s bringing the gospel to Philippi early in his second missionary journey (A.D. 49-52). Paul didn’t get to visit Philippi again until five years later (A.D. 55-56).

However, Paul and the Christians in Philippi continued to keep in contact, their sending him aid when he was in Thessalonica (Phil. 4:16) and Corinth (2 Cor. 11:9), which he went to later in his second missionary journey (Acts 17:1; 18:1), and his sending Timothy and another of his helpers, Erastus, to Macedonia near the end of his stay in Ephesus on his third missionary journey (Acts 19:22). After leaving Ephesus on that occasion, Paul travelled through Macedonia encouraging the Christians (Acts 20:2) and writing 2 Corinthians (2 Cor. 2:13 and 7:5). Then after visiting Corinth, he went back through Macedonia, spending the Feast of Unleavened Bread in Philippi (Acts 20:3-6).

During one of Paul’s imprisonments, the Philippians sent Epaphroditus to give him a gift (Phil. 4:18) and take care of his needs (2:25). When Epaphroditus returned to Philippi, he carried with him a letter from Paul, the Biblical Philippians. Until fairly recently this imprisonment was assumed to be in Rome, where Acts leaves Paul a prisoner waiting to have his case heard by Caesar. After all, Paul refers in Philippians to the praetorium or imperial guard (1:13) and Caesar’s household (4:22). Then inscriptions came to light which indicated that the government quarter in every important city was known as the praetorium and that Caesar’s household could refer to anyone connected with the emperor’s service, not just the royal family. This opened up the question of where Paul was imprisoned when he wrote Philippians, with Corinth, Ephesus, and Caesarea being proposed as alternatives to Rome. Personally I accept the traditional view that it was in Rome (in A.D. 60-62).

When Paul wrote the letter, he expected to visit the Philippians again soon (2:24). If Philippians was written from Rome, 1 Timothy 1:3 (“As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus,” ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV) probably refers to this visit, its being written about A.D. 65 between Paul’s first and second Roman imprisonments.

In his letter to them, Paul told the Philippians, “I hold you in my heart” (Phil. 1:7). That he had a deep affection for them is shown throughout the letter. It is also shown in his testimony about them in 2 Corinthians 8:1-5 regarding their contribution to the collection for the Christians in Jerusalem.

1 We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, 2 for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. 3 For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, 4 begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints—5 and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us.

Their sending gifts to him shows that the Philippians felt the same way about Paul.


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