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Introduction to Philippians

An introduction to Philippians
This is a brief introduction and background to Paul's letter to the Philippians, which you can read here. You can listen to the sermon series by clicking the images on the right of this page.

The first thing we need to notice is that this is a letter. It’s written by St Paul from a prison cell in Rome to a church community in the city of Philippi.

It was a Roman colony and an army garrison town - a kind of ‘mini-Rome’, far away from the Imperial capital, on the eastern coast of Macedonia, what we now call Greece. It was a particularly important place for Paul - and for the history of the church - because it was the first place in Europe where the gospel was preached. In Acts 16 you can read the story of how Paul and his companions left Asia, sailing across the Aegean Sea, following a vision of a ‘man of Macedonia’ calling them to Greece. They end up in Philippi, where, on the Sabbath, they head to a place by the local river where people gathered to pray, and they meet a woman called Lydia. She, we are told, was a ‘dealer in purple cloth’ and ‘a worshipper of God’, and Paul tells her about Jesus, and she became the first Christian in Europe and the founder of the Philippian church.

What started so well though, quickly goes wrong when Paul calls a demon out of a slave-girl who was being used as a fortune teller by her owners. She is healed and set free, but her owners have lost a valuable source of income, and have Paul arrested, beaten and thrown into the town prison. And you may remember the story of how Paul and his friend Silas are singing and praying in their prison cell when there’s a great earthquake, which leaves them free of their chains. The head jailer knows that he’s going to be in trouble for letting his prisoners escape and announces that he’s going to kill himself. Instead of legging it while they can Paul tells him about Jesus, and we’re told ‘the jailer and his entire family were baptised’. 

So the first members of the church in Philippi are a pretty ragged bunch. A well off merchant woman, a slave girl who has been used and abused by her owners and a suicidal prison guard. But there’s something special about them, and now some years later, and many miles away, Paul is writing to them.

And he’s writing from Rome, where he’s in prison again, this time awaiting an audience with the Emperor. The letter is probably written in about 62AD, and it has been carried all the way from Rome by a member of the Philippian church called Epaphroditus. The Philippians had heard about Paul’s imprisonment, and perhaps remembering that their church began with Paul in Rome, have sent Epaphroditus to Rome with gifts to help him in his trouble. Paul is overwhelmingly grateful for their generosity, but after his long and dangerous journey to Paul, Epaphroditus has fallen desperately ill and nearly died, but he’s now better, and has come home, bringing with him this letter from Paul.

And there are some clear themes in what he has written - and we’ll tease them out over the next 4 weeks.  Above all, Paul’s reflection on the question - how do we stay joyful in the midst of struggle and disappointment? And today, in particular, how do we deal with disappointment..

Posted: 01-10-2017 at 20:04
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