The city of Philippi was a predominately gentile community in the northern part of Greece. The Romans made it a “colony,” meaning that they retired soldiers from their legions there. Paul established a church in Philippi during his second missionary journey. This congregations became very dear to him. Normally, Paul did not take financial support from churches he served, but Philippi was different. So dear was he to them that they sent aid to him several times (Philippians 4:15-16). So attached were they to his work, that even though the church in Philippi was very poor, they still joined in the collection Paul took for the suffering Christians in Judea (2 Corinthians 8:2).
It was during his first imprisonment in Rome that Paul wrote his letter to the Philippians. At the time, two women of that church, well known for their good works and faithfulness, had a disagreement. The congregation began to take sides and division occurred. It did not help that the Philippian church was also undergoing persecution. This scenario became the impetus for Paul’s letter to them. In his opening, Paul urges the church to “stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the Gospel( 1:27).
Division always occurs when people forget God has called us to humility, and putting the welfare of others above ourselves. In the first three chapters of Philippians, Paul cites four examples of personal sacrifice for the good of others. He cites himself (chapters 1 and 3), Christ, Timothy and Epaphroditus (chapter 2). His point is that Christians, in following Christ’s example and that of followers the Philippians knew, should “do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others first (2:3-4).
In chapter 4, based on the examples he has cited, Paul focuses on the Philippians’ problem specifically and urges among them a resolution of the conflict among themselves, and a trust in God to take care of the persecution.