As we finished the Book of Acts, we left Paul in prison. I thought it would be appropriate to move on to the "Prison Epistles", Paul’s letters written from prison, most notable and least disputed is Paul’s letter to the Philippians.
Paul’s Letter to the Philippians
Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons: 2Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
As we begin this study of Paul’s letter to the Philippians, there are several things to keep in mind. Fred Craddock (Interpretation Biblical Commentary: Philippians) tells us that we must remember that Paul was writing a letter – not a gospel, nor an apocalypse, nor a manual of discipline, but a letter. The nature of Paul’s missionary work – founding churches in widely scattered locations and then moving on – made letters essential. As a letter, Philippians opens a window on the relationship between Paul and the people in Philippi.
Standard letters of Paul’s time consisted of: 1. Salutation, 2. Body, and 3. Farewell. Paul’s letters, in general, fit that pattern but Paul adds a fourth section, Thanksgiving, after the Salutation. What we have in today’s passage is the salutation of the letter. It identifies the sender, or senders, in this case Paul and Timothy, and Paul goes on to give the only qualifications he believes necessary to the letter to the Philippians – they are servants of Jesus Christ. It also identifies the recipients of the letter, the Philippians, or more specifically – the saints in Christ Jesus in Philippi, or, those who believe in Jesus, for all believers are called saints; and to their leaders, whom Paul designates bishops and deacons. This was not to say that these were yet formalized positions in the church – they were commonly used terms for leaders.
We must also remember that the letter was meant for a group of Christians, not a single person. Paul’s letters, Craddock says, are “personal but not private. He wrote to all the saints.” The letter was meant to be read aloud in worship – thus phrasing and repetition, hymns, confessions, doxologies, prayers, and benedictions – are used to speak to the ears of a group of people. Even in our modern translations, you will find beauty in the words if you read them aloud.
And finally, Paul does write more personally to the Philippians; he had spent more time in Philippi than in some other places, and he has a close bond with these people. They have been partners in ministry. It is a beautiful letter because it has places where Paul bares his soul.