Philippi was the metropolis and most important city in the eastern part of Macedonia, near the borders of Thrace, to which it had formerly belonged, having at that time the name Crenides, or "Fountains," from the numerous springs in the vicinity. The Macedonian monarch Philip, the father of Alexander the Great, took the city from the Thracians on account of rich gold deposits in the neighborhood, renaming it in his honor and strongly fortifying it. This was in 358 B. C. Julius Caesar planted a colony of Roman citizens here. In the year 42 B. C. the famous battle between Brutus and Cassius, on the one side, and Octavius (later Caesar Augustus) and Mark Antony, on the other, was fought near Philippi, in which the former were defeated and the fate of the empire was decided. When Octavius became emperor, he confirmed the action of Julius Caesar by formally declaring Philippi to be a Roman colony and giving to its inhabitants the rights of Roman citizens, with the usual Roman officials, who, by courtesy, were called "praetors" in the colonies. Philippi was too far from the head of the Aegean Sea to become a great commercial center, and therefore only few Jews had settled there. There was no synagogue, the faithful assembling on the banks of the little river Zygactes, which flowed near the city, Act_16:13.
The Apostle Paul had come to Philippi on his second missionary journey, having been directed to Europe by a vision which called him to Macedonia, Act_16:9. With only a handful of women Paul had founded the first Christian congregation in Europe, Act_16:12-40. After the bitter experience of a shameful imprisonment Paul had left the city, only, however, to return to the growing congregation twice on his third journey, Act_20:1-6. The congregation at Philippi was very near and dear to Paul. Although consisting chiefly of Gentile Christians, it had received the apostle with willing joy, had always been in intimate communication with him, and was the only congregation from which he had accepted financial aid. When Paul was taken to Rome as a prisoner, this congregation had shown a very sympathetic interest in his welfare. Hearing that their beloved teacher was in need, the Philippian Christians sent one of their officials, probably a bishop, or pastor, all the way to Rome, a distance of some 700 miles, to bring him some money which they had collected for him. This man, Epaphroditus, brought the apostle good news of the growth of the Philippian congregation, but was obliged to tell also of the enmity from without and of the unpleasant experiences within the congregation, Php_1:28-29; Php_2:15; Php_3:18-19. Paul, therefore, made Epaphroditus the bearer of a letter of encouragement to his beloved Philippians, the most intimate and cordial of all his letters to the early congregations.
The epistle was written by Paul during his first Roman imprisonment. He was still a prisoner, but had strong hopes of being released very soon, as he repeatedly states. The confident tone, together with individual expressions relating to the certainty of an early release, seem to make it sure that Paul wrote this letter toward the end of his imprisonment, early in the year 63. Epaphroditus, who had been taken sick at Rome, was at length able to return to Philippi, and so Paul took advantage of this opportunity.
The letter may easily be divided into two parts, an encouragement, Php_1:1-30; Php_2:1-30, and an admonition, chaps. 3 and 4. After the opening greeting there follows a cordial thanksgiving for the excellent spiritual status of the Philippians, together with an assurance of fervent intercession for them, whereupon Paul gives them information concerning his present condition and his probable future. in connection with this he brings an exhortation to unity, meekness, and denial of self, pointing to Christ as a glorious example of these virtues He also announces to them the sending of Timothy and the return of their beloved Epaphroditus. In the second part of the letter Paul warns against the Judaistic teachers and their doctrine of righteousness by the works of the Law, showing from his own experience the worthlessness of all self-righteousness and the glory of justification through the blood of Christ. He urges the Philippians to profit by his example, not to deny their faith for the sake of earthly advantages, but to await the perfection of heaven's glory. With a number of individual admonitions concerning harmony, constancy, love, and all other Christian virtues, followed by expressions of gratitude for the gift received, and the customary greeting and blessing, the letter comes to a close.