December 3, 2023 | Doug Sauder
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There are a great many things that go into planning an awesome wedding. From the venue, to the flowers, to the food, to the dress, to the guest list . . . we could go on and on. That’s why most couples take between nine months and a year and a half to plan it! There are even specialized professions working for a multi-billion dollar industry dedicated to it.
When my wife and I were planning our wedding, I remember the long months of making sure we checked off everything in our binder. And then after the wedding day came and went, I discovered there was still one thing left to do in the binder: thank you notes.
I thought all the work was done and it was time for the marriage to begin, but I was mistaken! Instead, the night we opened all our gifts, we also had to take rigorous notes as to who gave us what and why it was meaningful, because apparently each thank you note had to be personal and beautiful. I never realized that thank you notes were part of the wedding process, but my wife was on it. And the thank you notes were lovely, from the heart, and even a little tear inducing.
Did you know that the New Testament contains a thank you note? No, this one wasn’t for a wedding, but it was in response to a generous gift. I’m talking about the apostle Paul’s letter to the believers at Philippi. This brief, theologically packed four-chapter letter is, at its core, Paul writing to express his deep and heartfelt gratitude to the Philippians for their care and compassion during a challenging time in his life. So, as we get ready to spend the next seven weeks unpacking this epistle, let’s get a little context and background on it!
AUTHOR AND DATE
The Book of Philippians is a letter written by the apostle Paul to a church in a city called Philippi. Most Bible scholars believe the letter was written around the year 60 A.D. and was probably written from Caesarea—though some have debated it also may have been written from Rome (60–63 A.D.), Ephesus (54–57 A.D.), or Corinth (50 A.D.). One thing that’s definitely clear is that Paul wrote this letter from prison—one of the many times that Paul was imprisoned.
So, who were the Philippians? Well, the city of Philippi was a pretty big deal in the ancient world. It was essentially a gateway between Europe and Asia, a busy city with a great deal of business coming through it. Many have called Philippi a mini Rome, with a large number of Roman citizens living there, particularly a large number of retired Roman soldiers. Philippi was also a very wealthy town because of its gold and silver mines. For Paul, Philippi was a city and church he held very dearly. His missionary work in Europe began at Philippi, where he was the first to baptize people in the continent.
Interestingly, there doesn’t actually seem to be a single overriding concern or issue behind the writing of this letter. This differs from many of his other letters, like the letters to the Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, etc. For the most part, this is simply, as was mentioned above, a thank you letter from Paul, a heartfelt pastoral communication between the apostle and a group of believers that were especially near and dear to his heart. What was he thanking them for? The Philippians let Paul know they were very concerned for his wellbeing and they sent him a very generous financial gift to support him during his house arrest as he awaited an audience with Caesar. Thus, Paul wrote not only to thank and encourage them, but also to reassure them of his condition, both spiritual and physical.
Joy in the Midst of Suffering:
Did you know that the word joy—or a variation of it—appears 17 times in this short four-chapter book? Chief among the points of emphasis in Philippians is how Paul modeled joy in the face of suffering and guided the Philippians in their own battle with persecution (1:27–30; 2:14–16). Paul made it clear that his joy came from being in Christ (3:8; 4:12–13), from his communion with other believers (1:4–5), and from the promise of the resurrection (3:10–11, 20–21).
One of the most famous passages of the New Testament is found in Philippians 2. Here, Paul emphasized that believers are to imitate Christ, Who embodied humility (2:3–4) by emptying Himself in order to obey the Father and serve others—even to the point of death (2:8). We see two contrasting pairs mentioned in Philippians, as Timothy and Epaphroditus lived out this humility with the kind of attitude Paul wanted the entire community of believers to demonstrate (2:19–30). On the other hand, Euodia and Syntche were at odds with each other, not willing to serve one another and their community by resolving their conflict (4:2–3).
At its heart, this letter was meant to convey gratitude and love. Paul commended and honored Epaphroditus for his life-endangering service to the apostle. He also acknowledged and thanked the community of believers at Philippi for their partnership in the gospel with him, for the generous they sent him, and for their deep concern for him during his imprisonment. Paul had served them sacrificially (2:17), and they responded in kind! He encouraged and commended them for their maturity in Christ and affirmed that they had indeed received spiritual rewards for the generosity and selflessness.
Danny Saavedra is a licensed minister who has served on staff at Calvary since 2012, managing the Calvary Devotional and digital discipleship resources. He has a Master of Arts in Pastoral Counseling and Master of Divinity in Pastoral Ministry from Liberty Theological Seminary. His wife Stephanie, son Jude, and daughter Zoe share a love of Star Wars, good food, having friends over for dinner, and studying the Word together as a family.