The time after Christmas, including, in some places Boxing Day—for which different etymologies have been given—is a time for writing thank you notes. The Apostle Paul also wrote a thank you letter and the Spirit of God preserved it for us in Holy Scripture. It is the book of Philippians, written most likely to a congregation in a city that was a retirement area for Roman soldiers. He wrote to a congregation composed of or influenced by those who were proud of their Roman citizenship (not everyone had that status) and who needed to be reminded that, however glorious it was to be a Roman citizen, as believers in Christ, united to Christ by grace alone, through faith alone, by the power of the Spirit, they had a heavenly citizenship. This was a congregation, after all, as Acts tells us, that had modest beginnings as the world counts such things. About 360 years after Paul wrote this, however, when the great city was invaded (410) and the empire collapsed and civilization descended into a period of chaos, Roman citizens all across the empire would understand more fully how important it was to know that earthly cities and kingdoms come and go but the kingdom of God is forever.
Paul wanted to do more, however, than simply to thank the Philippian congregation for their support of his ministry. He wrote to orient them, i.e., to set them right, on a number of topics. He wanted them to have “this mind” (way of seeing things) that was also “in Christ Jesus.” He wrote to warn them about metaphorical “dogs,” i.e., judaizers who wanted to corrupt the good news (it’s not just in Galatians and Colossians!) by adding our works as part of our basis and instrument of justification.
He also wrote to set them right on the nature of the Christian life, about loss, about where we must put our confidence, and to where we orient ourselves for the daily struggle against sin. Here’s a sermon (from the Latin for “word”) on this passage preached last Lord’s Day in the Escondido URC.