The city of Phillipi was located on the far northeast corner of present day Greece. Founded by Philip, father of Alexander the Great in 358 B.C., the city became a very prominent and strategic location due to its road system and nearby coast. Around 30-35 B.C. the expanding Roman empire conquered the city led by the future Augustus Caesar. Veteran Roman soldiers and their families slowly flooded into the area. Phillipi was not only an important and strategic location politically, but a perfect location to expand God’s kingdom into Europe.
Twenty five years have passed since the Apostle Paul encountered the risen Christ on the road to Damascus. The Lord has used him to plant churches throughout Macedonia and Asia. Thousands came to faith by his preaching of the gospel. But now he was in Rome under house arrest for a crime he did not commit. A riot in Jerusalem incited by Jewish leaders caused the Roman authorities to arrest Paul for his own protection and the preservation of order. Exercising his Roman citizenship, Paul appeals his case to the emperor. It is widely believed that Paul wrote this letter to the Philippian church under house arrest while awaiting his trial in Rome.
While the Apostle Paul sat in chains, the images of events and people precious to him in Philippi must have captured his attention while dictating his letter. A brief record of Paul’s time in Philippi is recorded for us in Acts 16:11-40. We are introduced to Lydia, the prominent businesswoman of purple cloth, who was one of the first to be baptized and played a key role in establishing the church. We see Paul and Silas thrown into prison and the miraculous event of his release. He pictures the baptism of the jailer and his entire household who were led to faith in the risen Christ. Now, Epaphroditus from Phillipi sits across from him bringing gifts from the church. With a heart overflowing with love and concern for his people, the Holy Spirit ignites a desire to share words of thanksgiving and encouragement.
Paul could have complained in his letter about his circumstances. He could of bemoaned the unlikelihood of a fair trial. Instead, the tone of Paul’s letter is one of joy and peace. We see confidence and contentment that his circumstances were all part of God’s plan. Suffering is a part of being God’s servant and he was being blessed as a result. Paul was convinced that nothing, not even the discouragement of being held captive, would be able to rob him of the faith and hope he had in Christ. Ever the missionary, he stresses the congregation to stand firm together and be wary of any person who attempts to convince them to follow rules in order to be right with God. The same words that uplifted and inspired the early Christian church to be courageous and rejoice in our circumstances still finds new meaning and significance for our own lives today.