Where Is Philippi, and Why Did Paul Write to the Philippians?

Contributing Writer
Where Is Philippi, and Why Did Paul Write to the Philippians?

As we read through the Bible, titles of books and places may seem mysterious to us. The world has changed over two thousand years. What were once central locations have been forgotten to time and history. We may still be familiar with places like Rome or Jerusalem, but when the Bible mentions cities like Corinth or Laodicea, it takes more research and effort to understand the context. 

However, the people of that era would not only know the places but also associate certain reputations with those cities, like we do with Los Angeles or New York City today. 

When reading through these books of the Bible, doing a bit of research into a place helps us better comprehend the work and even interpret Scriptures with more confidence. 

Paul wrote the letter to the church in Philippi in the fist century. We gain great wisdom and instruction from this apostolic letter, but what can we know about city of Philippi? 

What Was Philippi’s Location and History?

Situated in the present-day region of Eastern Macedonia and Thrace, Philippi was founded in 356 BC by King Philip II of Macedon, the father of Alexander the Great. The city lies on the Via Egnatia, an important Roman road that connected the eastern and western parts of the Roman Empire, making it a crucial hub for trade and military movements.

Philippi began as a small Thasian colony known as Krenides, which means “springs.” When the city faced threats from the Thracians, its inhabitants sought the help of King Philip II. Recognizing its strategic and economic potential, Philip II annexed the city, fortified it, and renamed it after himself. He expanded its infrastructure, establishing Philippi as a significant city in the Macedonian kingdom.

The city’s prosperity was largely due to its proximity to gold mines in the nearby mountains, which Philip exploited to fund his military campaigns and political ambitions. Philippi flourished under Macedonian rule, becoming a vital center for commerce and culture.

Philippi’s prominence continued under Roman rule. In 42 BC, it was the site of the famous Battle of Philippi, where the forces of Mark Antony and Octavian defeated the assassins of Julius Caesar, Brutus and Cassius. Following the battle, Philippi became a Roman colony, Colonia Victrix Philippensium, and later, Colonia Iulia Augusta Philippensis. This status granted its inhabitants Roman citizenship and brought Roman customs, architecture, and governance to the city.

Philippi continued to thrive during the early Byzantine period, benefiting from its strategic location and robust economy. The city saw the construction of significant Christian buildings, including a large basilica. However, by the 6th century AD, the city began to decline due to natural disasters, economic difficulties, and the shifting political landscape.

By the time of the Ottoman conquest in the 14th century, Philippi had largely been abandoned and fell into ruins.

Today, the site of ancient Philippi is a significant archaeological and historical landmark. Located near the modern town of Krinides, the ruins of Philippi attract scholars, tourists, and religious pilgrims. The archaeological site includes well-preserved remnants of the ancient theater, forum, basilicas, and city walls. Excavations have also revealed parts of the Via Egnatia and the remains of Roman and Byzantine structures.

In 2016, UNESCO designated the Archaeological Site of Philippi as a World Heritage Site, recognizing its historical and cultural importance. Visitors today can explore the ancient ruins, gaining insights into the city’s rich past and its role in shaping early Christian history.

What Is the History of the Philippian Church?

The church in Philippi was the first Christian community established in Europe, and it holds a special place in the history of early Christianity.

Acts documents the establishment of the Philippian church. During his second missionary journey, the Apostle Paul, accompanied by Silas, Timothy, and later Luke, received a vision of a man from Macedonia pleading for help (Acts 16:9-10). Interpreting this as a divine call, Paul and his companions set sail for Macedonia, eventually arriving in Philippi.

Upon arriving in Philippi, Paul and his team sought a place of prayer outside the city gate, by the river. They encountered a group of women there, including Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from Thyatira. Lydia, described as a worshiper of God, listened to Paul’s message and was baptized along with her household, thus becoming the first convert in Europe (Acts 16:13-15).

Notable events marked the Philippian church’s early period. City officials imprisoned Paul and Silas after casting a spirit of divination out of a slave girl, disrupting her owners’ source of income (Acts 16:16-24). Despite their imprisonment, they prayed and sang hymns, and a miraculous earthquake opened the prison doors. The jailer, witnessing this, asked what he must do to be saved. Paul’s response, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved — you and your household,” led to the jailer's conversion and baptism (Acts 16:25-34). These conversions marked the foundation of the Philippian church.

The Philippian church continued to grow and develop after Paul’s initial ministry. Early Christian writings and historical records indicate that the church maintained its significance in the region. The Philippians’ steadfastness in faith, generosity, and adherence to Paul’s teachings made them a model community in the early Christian world.

The archaeological discoveries in Philippi, including early Christian inscriptions and remnants of basilicas, testify to the lasting presence and influence of Christianity in the city. These findings suggest that the church in Philippi played a vital role in the spread of Christianity throughout Macedonia and beyond.

Why Did Paul Write the Letter to the Philippians?

As the apostle responsible for planting the church in Philippi, Paul felt responsible for them to some degree and wrote them a letter of encouragement, as he did for many of the churches he planted. Each letter holds unique themes and discussions, since each church had their individual issues and needs.

Paul had a special bond with the Philippian church, evident throughout his letter. The Philippians had supported Paul financially and emotionally during his ministry, both in person and from afar. In Philippians 1:3-5, he writes, “I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.” He wanted to acknowledge their generosity and reinforce their mutual bond.

Paul encouraged the Philippians to remain steadfast in their faith and to persevere through trials. He recognized the challenges they faced and sought to uplift their spirits by reminding them of the joy and peace found in Christ. Philippians 4:4-7 highlights this: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Paul also addressed disunity within the church. He urged the Philippians to adopt a Christ-like attitude of humility and selflessness, fostering unity among believers. In Philippians 2:3-4, he writes, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” He used the example of Christ’s humility and obedience as a model for them to follow (Philippians 2:5-11).

Paul wrote the letter to the Philippians during his imprisonment, likely in Rome around 61-62 AD. His confinement provided a backdrop for his messages of joy, perseverance, and reliance on God despite circumstances. In Philippians 1:12-14, Paul shares how his imprisonment has served to advance the Gospel: “Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ.”

What Can We Learn from Paul’s Letter to Philippi?

Paul's letter to the Philippians offers a wealth of lessons for Christians today, rooted in the themes of gratitude, joy, humility, unity, and perseverance. By examining Paul’s motivations and the content of his letter, we can glean valuable insights for our own spiritual journeys and what life should look like in faith communities.

1. The Importance of Gratitude and Support

Paul wrote to the Philippians to express his deep gratitude for their support. This teaches us the importance of appreciating and acknowledging those who support and uplift us in our faith. All of us can point to people who have spiritually invested in us, now or in the past. We can learn to cultivate a spirit of thankfulness, recognizing the contributions of others in our lives and our ministry, and fostering a sense of community and partnership in spreading the gospel. This gratitude shouldn’t just exist in our minds, it should be expressed through practical and clear ways.

2. Rejoicing Despite Circumstances

One of the central themes of the letter is joy, despite Paul’s imprisonment. Philippians 4:4 encourages, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” This crucial reminder encourages us while we face challenges and hardships. Paul’s example shows that joy is not dependent on external circumstances but is rooted in our relationship with Christ. We learn to find joy in God’s presence and faithfulness, maintaining a positive outlook even in difficult times.

3. Embracing Humility and Service

Paul emphasizes the importance of humility and selflessness, urging the Philippians to adopt the attitude of Christ, who humbled himself for the ultimate and eternal good of others. Paul also expresses how the Father rewarded his Son for such self-sacrifice. This call to humility is particularly relevant today, in a culture often focused on self-promotion and individualism. As Jesus followers, we strive to put others first, serve our communities selflessly, and follow Christ’s example of humility and sacrifice with hope in the unshakable heavenly reward ahead of us.

4. Promoting Unity and Reconciliation

Paul’s plea for unity in the Philippian church, particularly in resolving conflicts like the one between Euodia and Syntyche (Philippians 4:2-3), highlights the importance of harmony within the Christian community. Modern believers can learn the value of reconciliation and unity, working to resolve disagreements peacefully and fostering a spirit of cooperation and mutual support. This unity strengthens the witness of the church and reflects the love of Christ.

5. Strength in Christ

Finally, Paul’s declaration in Philippians 4:13, “I can do all this through him who gives me strength,” reminds us that our strength comes from Christ. In a world which often emphasizes self-reliance, Paul teaches us to depend on God’s power and grace. The apostle expresses this reliance upon Jesus to the Philippians while suffering persecution for the faith, under house arrest in Rome. And we read this letter even today, two thousand years later, through the Spirit-inspired words. By trusting in Christ, we can overcome obstacles and fulfill our God-given purposes, blessing others in our life and leaving a spiritual legacy for future generations.

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Britt MooneyBritt Mooney lives and tells great stories. As an author of fiction and non -iction, he is passionate about teaching ministries and nonprofits the power of storytelling to inspire and spread truth. Mooney has a podcast called Kingdom Over Coffee and is a published author of We Were Reborn for This: The Jesus Model for Living Heaven on Earth as well as Say Yes: How God-Sized Dreams Take Flight.