Paul is sitting in prison when he writes Philippians and the other Prison Epistles — Ephesians, Colossians and Philemon. Some have suggested this prison was in Ephesus or Caesarea, but the Prison Epistles were most likely written while Paul was under house arrest in Rome and not later when Paul was in the Mamertime dungeon in Rome at the end of his life. The fact that this hopeful letter of joy and contentment was written in such circumstance is, by itself, astounding.
We learn from Acts 16 that the first members of the Philippians church were the businesswoman Lydia in whose house the church may have met at first, a young girl delivered from demons, and a Roman jailer whose very life Paul and Silas had saved. This church likely had predominantly pagan roots as there wasn’t even a synagogue in Philippi when Paul visited on his second missionary journey. Philippi was a proud Greco-Roman city, named after Philip of Macedon, the father of Alexander the Great, and a city in which faithful Roman soldiers had been given land in retirement.
Given the overwhelming positive tone of this letter, we can tell Paul was especially fond of the Christians in Philippi. They had given him great financial and moral support on his journeys most recently in a love offering sent with Epaphroditus. At least part of Philippians is simply a thank you letter for their generosity. Paul also must have sensed that he was closer to the end of his life and ministry than the beginning. As any “father” would want to do, Paul also takes advantage of the opportunity to warn against false teaching, encourage them to stand firm in hardships, and to find their center for attitude and actions in the example of Jesus.
More than almost any letter in the New Testament, Philippians exudes a confidence about life. Paul has learned the secret to being content no matter the circumstances (4:11) and wants his children in the faith to know it too. With it’s 16 uses of some version of the word “joy,” there is no wonder why this short epistle is a favorite of many people.