Paul Writes Philippians a Letter of Love and Joy
THE city of Philippi was founded by the military genius Philip of Macedon (father of Alexander the Great), who named it after himself. It became the principal city of Macedonia, now part of northern Greece and southern Yugoslavia. Historians highly praise the fine qualities of the Macedonians, and it seems that the seeds of truth sown there by the apostle Paul did indeed fall upon good and fine soil.—Luke 8:8, 15.
Paul and his traveling companions visited Philippi on his second missionary journey, about 49-52 C.E. They had been forbidden by God’s spirit to preach in certain other places. Then one night Paul had a vision in which a certain Macedonian man appealed to him: “Step over into Macedonia and help us.” Luke notes: “Now as soon as he had seen the vision, we sought to go forth into Macedonia, drawing the conclusion that God had summoned us to declare the good news to them.”—Acts 16:6-10.
It is quite likely that few Jews lived in Philippi. One indication of this is that, instead of going to the synagogue on the sabbath as was his usual custom, Paul went outside the city gate where women gathered for prayer at a riverside.
It is also of interest to note the role that the women played in the Philippian congregation. Paul went to a place where women gathered for prayer. It was a woman convert, Lydia, who displayed outstanding generosity and hospitality, such as later marked that congregation. After she had been baptized she entreated the missionary group: “If you men have judged me to be faithful to Jehovah, enter into my house and stay.” And Luke adds: “She just made us come.” (Acts 16:11-15) Also, it was two women about whom Paul was concerned, Euodia and Syntyche, ‘who had striven side by side with Paul in the good news, along with Clement,’ a brother.—Phil. 4:2, 3.
THE BOND OF LOVE
There was a warm bond of love between Paul and the Philippians. Of course, he showed love in the first place by journeying there and preaching to them, and they warmly responded. On at least four occasions they sent funds to Paul. Twice while he was in Thessalonica they were the only ones to do this, even as he tells it: “Not a congregation took a share with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you alone; because, even in Thessalonica, you sent something to me both once and a second time for my need.” (Phil. 4:15, 16) Though Paul fell in need when in Corinth, he did not become a burden to a single one of the brothers there, for ‘the brothers that came from Macedonia abundantly supplied his deficiency.’ (2 Cor. 11:9) Then, when Paul was a prisoner in Rome the Philippians sent a gift to Paul. (Phil. 4:10-14) It seems that this gift, together with the opportunity to communicate with them, occasioned the writing of the letter to the Philippians, about 60 or 61 C.E.
Paul’s letter to the Philippians may truly be described as a letter of love or a “love letter.” In keeping with this is the fact that Paul introduces himself not in his official capacity as an apostle but as a ‘slave of Christ.’ This is also indicated by there being, on the one hand, no expressions of righteous indignation, no censuring because of having accepted false teachings.
On the other hand, this letter contains such expressions of endearment as: “God is my witness of how I am yearning for all of you in such tender affection as Christ Jesus has.” Paul is content to remain in the flesh because that is “more necessary on your account.” He refers to them as his “beloved” brothers.—Phil. 1:8, 24; 2:12; 4:1.
A LETTER OF REJOICING
Paul’s letter to the Philippians also abounds with good cheer. He himself is joyful and he admonishes them to rejoice. It might be said to overflow with the same kind of spirit that Paul and Silas had when, after being beaten, imprisoned and put in stocks right there in Philippi, they were heard at midnight singing as well as praying aloud.—Acts 16:25.
Thus at the outset Paul says that he offers supplication for them with joy. He further tells that his imprisonment has resulted in the advancement of the good news rather than otherwise. In fact, his prison bonds have become common knowledge among the emperor’s soldiers, known as the Praetorian Guard, and the brothers have taken courage because of Paul’s incarceration to speak the Word of God more boldly. True, some were preaching Christ out of bad or wrong motives, hoping to cause Paul more suffering. But since the result of all of this was to make Christ known still more, Paul’s reaction was: “In this I rejoice. In fact, I will also keep on rejoicing.”—Phil. 1:13-18.
Regardless of the sacrifices that it may be his lot to endure, Paul says: “I am glad and I rejoice with all of you. Now in the same way you yourselves also be glad and rejoice with me.” He is sending Timothy to them so that when he returns he may be a cheerful soul. He is also sending Epaphroditus so that upon seeing him they may rejoice. “Therefore give him the customary welcome in the Lord with all joy.” (Phil. 2:17-19, 25-29) He begins what is now chapter three in the same vein, admonishing: “Finally, my brothers, continue rejoicing in the Lord.” And how does he begin chapter four? “Consequently, my brothers beloved and longed for, my joy and crown.” And then adds: “Always rejoice in the Lord. Once more I will say, Rejoice!” Farther on, Paul again strikes a joyful note, saying: “I do rejoice greatly in the Lord that now at last you have revived your thinking in my behalf, to which you were really giving thought, but you lacked opportunity.”—Phil. 4:1, 4, 10.
COUNSEL MOST FITTING FOR OUR DAY
Although he did not find it necessary to censure the Christians at Philippi, Paul nevertheless felt the need to give them fine upbuilding admonition as to right thinking, right conduct and zeal, all of which is most apropos for our day. He keeps praying “that your love may abound yet more and more with accurate knowledge and full discernment; that you may make sure of the more important things, so that you may be flawless and not be stumbling others up to the day of Christ, and may be filled with righteous fruit.” “Only behave in a manner worthy of the good news about the Christ.” (Phil. 1:9-11, 27) How appropriate such counsel is for our day! With all the temptations to wrongdoing on every hand, how careful we have to be that we never get sidetracked by less important things! Also, how important that we back up our preaching of the good news with conduct worthy of it!
Continuing, Paul expresses the desire to hear that his Philippian brothers are “standing firm in one spirit, with one soul striving side by side for the faith of the good news, and in no respect being frightened by [their] opponents.” (Phil. 1:27, 28) In view of the growing opposition to the preaching of the good news of God’s kingdom, that admonition is equally fitting for our day.
Paul’s next words encourage us to be united in love, compassion and tender affection, doing nothing out of contentiousness or out of egotism, but ‘with lowliness of mind, considering others as superior to ourselves.’ To reinforce his admonition he points to Jesus’ example and reward: Though existing in God’s form, Jesus was not ambitious to be equal to God but humbled himself not only to come to earth as a human but to the point of dying on the despised execution stake. Because of taking this course God gave him a name above every other name.—Phil. 2:1-11.
Again Paul counsels as to proper conduct: ‘Keep free from murmuring and arguments, be blameless, innocent, without blemish.’ The Christian obligation is to witness both by word and by deed, “shining as illuminators in the world, keeping a tight grip on the word of life.” He also warns against those who take pride in the flesh. He points to all that he could boast of but he considers it as a lot of refuse that he might gain Christ. Forgetting all that he left behind, Paul stretches earnestly to the things ahead. (Phil. 2:12-16; 3:2-14) And is that not what all Christians should do?
In view of today’s worsening economic situation world wide, as well as the ever-increasing crime and violence, how timely is Paul’s counsel that we, in spite of everything, keep on rejoicing! Also, that we “do not be anxious over anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication along with thanksgiving let [our] petitions be made known to God.” Then ‘the peace of God that excels all thought will guard our hearts and our mental powers.’ Yes, due to a fine relationship with his heavenly Father, a Christian can have calmness and tranquillity.—Phil. 4:6, 7.
Nor would we overlook the fact that Paul gives us fine indirect admonition by the good example that he set in zeal, appreciation, faith and contentment: “I have learned, in whatever circumstances I am, to be self-sufficient.” “For all things I have the strength by virtue of him who imparts power to me.”—Phil. 4:11, 13.
And certainly, never have words been penned that more beautifully and more fittingly tell us with what to fill our hearts and minds than those found at Philippians 4:8: “Finally, brothers, whatever things are true, whatever things are of serious concern, whatever things are righteous, whatever things are chaste, whatever things are lovable, whatever things are well spoken of, whatever virtue there is and whatever praiseworthy thing there is, continue considering these things.” What a safeguard the considering of such things is against the flood of obscenities and pornography seen and heard on every hand!
Truly, Paul’s letter to the Philippians is one of love and joy and is most beneficial for all Christians living today.