When Paul had been in the region of Asia on his first missionary journey, he had sought to go deeper into Asia and into the territory of Bithynia but had been prevented by the Holy Spirit from going there or even from continuing to preach the word to those in Asia.
Then, in a vision, Paul saw a man of Macedonia, (on the continent of Europe,) pleading with him to come there and to help them. This became the basis for Paul’s ministry to Europe – and to the Greeks, specifically – and also a classic example of what it means to be directed by the Holy Spirit in ministry. Surely those in Asia and the region of Bithynia needed to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ as well, but in that moment of time God had a different plan for Paul and his traveling companions, Timothy and Silas. The city of Philippi was the location the Holy Spirit had in mind for Jesus to reach next, and Paul was faithful to God’s plan and God’s redirection.
At Philippi Paul found a special group of people. Not only were they receptive to the gospel of Jesus Christ, but the church Paul was led to found there became a supporting ministry for all of Paul’s future journeys as a missionary. Paul therefore had a very special place in his heart for the church at Philippi. This group was unlike any other church he founded, and his loving letter to the church reflects his heart of love for them.
Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi is more devotional than any of his other epistles and does not follow his usual pattern of doctrine followed by application as we see in most of his epistles. It is not corrective, with a single exception. For the most part what we see is Paul’s overflowing heart for this church, and his abiding love for these people who have not only received him but blessed him by supporting his ministry. That this is a very special relationship between man and church and God and is why the Book of Philippians is so unique. It is, essentially, Paul’s love letter to a church.
We also remember Paul is writing this letter to this church from a Roman prison, which only adds weight to its sincerity and urgency. Paul reveals so much of the condition of his heart in this letter we see nowhere else. He notes his desire to simply be done with this work and to be with Jesus, and how he looks forward to the physical death he so obviously senses in in his near future. But he also admits, for now – while there is still time – there is work to be done for the sake of the gospel, even from prison.
In fact, Paul has come to realize all the persecution and suffering he has been through, all the false accusation and death threats, all the beatings he has endured, and now even the prison he finds himself in presently – have all been for the furtherance of the gospel, of which this very letter and his other prison epistles are our prime examples.