The city of Philippi was founded as a Roman military colony in 42 BC, directly following one of the largest battles of antiquity, the civil war battle of Philippi. This study shows that one hundred years later, at the time of writing of Paul’s letter to the Philippians, the identity of the city was still deeply connected to its military history.
The apostle Paul found in the historical and sociological ties of the Philippians with the
military reasons for drafting his letter in a rhetorical arrangement similar to the historical
reports of commander’s speeches to his assembled troops before battle. Not only does the
vocabulary of Paul’s ethical commands parallel the general’s harangues, as has been
previously pointed out by Biblical scholarship, but in Paul’s letter one also finds
correspondences to the three largest motifs of the general’s speeches: the objective of the
war, the confidence for victory and the rewards for courage and obedience.
The major unified theme of Philippians is the mutual military-partnership for the
advance of the gospel in a hostile context (Phil. 1:7-12; 1:20; 2:19-24; 2:25-30; 3:12-15; 4:3;
4:10-19). Paul in his letter to the Philippians uses consistently military imagery – and not
once athletic imagery, as typically assumed by exegetical scholars – to demonstrate that the
courageous sharing of the faith will always result in victory for the one who proclaims Christ.
This victory is guaranteed through the unsurpassable abilities of the supreme general, Jesus
Christ, whose death on the cross and whose resurrection is portrayed as a military victory
and whose exaltation by God the Father acknowledges Christ as the victorious general in an
universal extent (Phil. 2:8-11). The victory of the gospel campaign is further guaranteed by
the LORD’s initiation of the war for the spread of the faith and by His presence with those
who fight in His behalf for the spread of the good news (Phil. 1:5-7; 2:12-13; 2:14-15; 3:1;
4:4). Victory in the Philippian context means either the reception of the gospel by unbelievers
or the death of the messenger on account of rejection of and opposition to the gospel; the
suffering of the emissary of the gospel serves to glorify Christ and it is compensated by the
superior enjoyment of Christ at the resurrection (Phil. 1:19-25). The reward, which God
promises to the messenger of the gospel is several times stated in Philippians to be the
exalted experience of fellowship with Christ at the resurrection (Phil. 1:21; 3:8-11; 3:20-21;
The reading of Philippians in light of the appropriation of military terminology confirms that
Paul’s main purpose in writing Philippians is to encourage his partners to continue to take
risks, to be unafraid of suffering and to make sacrifices in order to boldly testify about Christ
and to continue to financially contribute to the mission of spreading the faith.
The book of Philippians challenges the contemporary self-centred prosperity culture of
the church to take risks and make sacrifices for the proclamation of Christ to unbelievers,
sacrifices, which are supremely compensated by a life for the glory of Christ and the
surpassing promise of the enjoyment of the glory of God in His Son Christ Jesus.