In the NT, the sixth of Paul’s epistles. The Christian community at Philippi in Macedonia was highly regarded by Paul and this letter includes a warm appreciation of their financial contribution for his needs (Phil. 4: 15–20). There seems to have been plenty of exchange of news between Paul and the Church, both by correspondence (Phil. 3: 1) and also through personal visits of Timothy and Epaphroditus (Phil. 2: 19–30). This has suggested to some commentators that Paul’s imprisonment where he was writing was more likely to have been in Ephesus than in distant Rome, in which case (at Ephesus) it would have been in about 55 CE. The references to the ‘praetorium’ (1: 13) and ‘Caesar’s household’ could apply as well to Ephesus as to Rome. But in fact there is no clear evidence for an Ephesian imprisonment. See philemon, paul’s letter to.

The epistle to the Philippians is primarily intended to support the faith and fellowship (koinonia) of the community, but it also includes the important Christological section, 2: 1–11, which is very difficult to interpret. Possibly it was a hymn already in Christian use which Paul has incorporated here as a paean of praise for the Christ who had voluntarily renounced his equality with God, accepted the agony of the Cross, and was at length crowned by God to rule over the whole universe. It is a passage seized on by a few modern theologians to explain a doctrine of the incarnation: Christ ‘emptied himself’ of such divine attributes as omniscience and so in his human person had all the limitations in knowledge of a 1st-cent. Jew. This is a theory now generally discarded, for it seems to posit a Christ who retained some divine attributes but relinquished others. The difficult expression in 2: 6 is interpreted by NRSV as meaning that Christ did not regard his equality with God as a status to be ‘exploited’. Paul’s faith is implicitly Trinitarian.

Behind this account of the pre-existence and humanity of Christ may lie the portrait of the Servant of the Lord of Isa. 40–55, especially Isa. 52: 13–53: 12, who suffered undeservedly but was vindicated by God and in the event (his death) he justified many and himself carried their iniquities. What Christ did should be an example to the Philippian Christians to renounce self-centredness and give themselves to others (2: 4).

But in reference to his own situation Paul uses, not for the first time, a stoic term, autarkes = being content (4: 11).