Today we return to Philippians and pick up our study in 4:14–17. We are in the midst of a section in which Paul expresses thanks for the monetary gift that the Philippians sent to meet his needs while he was in prison in Rome. He continues on with his words of gratitude in today’s passage, and in these verses we learn a lot of interesting information about his relationship to the church at Philippi.
We see, for example, that the Philippians were enthusiastic about the Apostle’s ministry from the moment they met him, and they were always willing to give generously to the work of the gospel through him. This is what Paul means when he says the Philippians were the only believers to partner with him since the “beginning of the gospel” (v. 15). From the moment Paul established the Philippian church through preaching the good news to God-fearing women on the banks of a river outside of Philippi (Acts 16:11–15), the believers in the city gave faithfully to the Apostle’s ministry. This partnership was remarkable because Philippi was a small city in Macedonia. There were more significant imperial cities to which Paul ministered in Macedonia, but none of them, not even wealthy Thessalonica, showed the same fervor for the Apostle’s work as Philippi (Phil. 4:16).
Philippians 4:14 also indicates that Paul saw the Philippians’ support of his work as sharing in his trouble. By giving to help alleviate his lack, they participated in his own poverty and suffering for Christ in this world (Col. 1:24–27). This was remarkable because joining in Paul’s travails added more trouble, from an earthly perspective, to the Philippians’ existing suffering for their faith in Philippi (Phil. 1:29–30). Truly, the Apostle could count on the Philippians through thick and thin.
Finally, today’s passage illustrates the importance of mutuality in ancient friendships. There was a general expectation in the ancient world that friends freely gave and received in a “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” kind of relationship. Although there was an element of this in Paul’s relationship to the Philippians, selfless service transformed the entire arrangement. For although Paul needed the gift, he sought help from the Philippians not as an end in itself but so that the Philippians could get a greater reward from God in giving to the Apostle (4:17).
Paul’s desire to have the Philippians get a blessing by giving to his work is an illustration of what we should think when faithful churches and ministries ask for our support. When our local churches, gospel-preaching ministries, faithful Christian colleges, and so forth request support, they are sharing legitimate needs and giving us a chance to receive commendation from God and further blessings that come when we give to gospel ministry.