The letter that Paul writes to the church at Philippi is one that resonates with joy. Joy because the church has been one of the few, if not the only church that has supported Paul during his missionary journeys. We read the following that relates to the founding of the church in Philippi:
Acts 16:6–7 (ESV)
6 And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. 7 And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them.
8 So, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas. 9 And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.
So, setting sail from Troas, we made a direct voyage to Samothrace, and the following day to Neapolis, 12 and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city some days. 13 And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together. 14 One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. 15 And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us.
As usual there are several options for the date of the letter but the best estimate that we have from all available scholars is between 61 and 62 AD.
Where was the Letter Written From?
This question has caused some issues with many Bible Scholars for some time. Three locations where Paul was in prison are thought to be where the letter to the Philippians might have been written. These locations are:
Caesarea (Palestine present day Israel)
Ephesus (Asia Minor present day Turkey)
Corinth (Asia Minor present day Turkey)
All of these locations have pros and cons to them but the only one that has tradition and some evidence is Rome. Rome is the consensus of many modern Biblical scholars.
Paul in his letter sees the “satellite view” although the “street view” doesn’t look too good. Paul is in prison, most likely under house arrest chained to a Roman soldier 24 hours a day. Paul is being rebuked by those who are preaching Christ, and he is getting closer to his execution date. The big picture is all that matters to Paul, here is an account of the big picture from the commentary on Philippians from Holman:
The apostle Paul grasped the big picture very well. As he wrote Philippians 1, he was about to be tackled for a twenty-yard loss. Under Roman house arrest, chained to a big burly Roman guard, he was waiting trial on a capital offense before none other than the mad man himself—Nero. Yet we find Paul rejoicing. How can he be doing that? How can be full of joy in the midst of adversity? The answer? Vantage point! Like a master quarterback, he’s on the phone to God in the press box. He sees his circumstances from God’s perspective. Therefore, he has a clear understanding of what is going on on the field and why these things are happening to him.
Max Anders, Galatians-Colossians (vol. 8; Holman New Testament Commentary; Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 206.
The Nature of Paul’s Captivity
The degree of restraint put upon a person laboring under a criminal charge was determined by various circumstances—by the nature of the charge itself, by the rank and reputation of the accused, by the degree of guilt presumed to attach to him. Those most leniently dealt with were handed over to their friends, who thus became sureties for their appearance; the worst offenders were thrown into prison and loaded with chains. The captivity of St. Paul at Rome was neither the severest nor the lightest possible.
By his appeal to Caesar he had placed himself at the emperor’s disposal. Accordingly on his arrival in Rome he is delivered over to the commander of the palace guard, under whose charge he appears to have remained throughout his captivity. He represents himself as strictly a prisoner: he speaks again and again of his chains. [He calls himself a “prisoner” in Acts 28:17, Philemon 1, 9 and Ephesians 3:1 and 4:1; his “chains” are mentioned in Philippians 1:7, 13, 14 and 17, Philemon 10, 13, and Colossians 4:18; compare Colossians 4:3, “for which I am in chains.”] According to Roman custom he was bound by the hand to the soldier who guarded him and was never left alone day or night. As the soldiers would relieve guard in constant succession, they were brought one by one into communication with the “prisoner of Jesus Christ,” and thus he was able to affirm that his chains had borne witness to the Gospel “throughout the whole palace guard” (Philippians 1:13)
Joseph Barber Lightfoot, Philippians (Crossway Classic Commentaries; Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1994), 26–27.
More information on the letter to the Philippians by The Apostle Paul
Philippi was the first major town in ancient Macedonia to be visited by Paul and Silas when they crossed over into Europe from Asia (Acts 16:11–40), but Paul’s letter to the church dates from a later time when he was in prison, most probably in Rome (*cf. Acts 28:16–31). The story in Acts of the foundation of the church unfortunately sheds little or no light on the circumstances of the composition of the letter. The letter is essentially expressive of the friendship, or better fellowship, between Paul (with Timothy) and the congregation in Philippi, who were regarded with affection by him as sharers in the common task of Christian mission (Phil. 1:5); the congregation had helped him by its prayers (1:19) and its giving (4:10–19). Paul shares news about his own situation as a prisoner with the aim of encouraging his readers (1:12–26), and writes about his contact with the congregation through Timothy and Epaphroditus (2:19–30). He also makes a strong pastoral appeal to the congregation to avoid dissension and to cultivate unity so that they will not be weak and unable to resist the powerful temptation, caused by active opposition, to give up their faith (1:27–2:18; cf. 4:2–9). The church was in danger also from a group of people (rival travelling preachers) who appear to have been encouraging Jewish ritual and legal practices as the path to spiritual perfection or maturity (3:1–4:1). Paul’s response in his letter to this situation is deeply theological and represents a typical use of his profound theology for pastoral purposes.
I. H. Marshall, “Philippians,” ed. T. Desmond Alexander and Brian S. Rosner, New Dictionary of Biblical Theology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 319.