While in prison in Rome (Acts 28:30-31), Paul was informed about the unrest in Philippi. He had enjoyed a prosperous but dangerous encounter there on his second journey (Acts 16:11-40), and from that meeting onward the Philippians began to provide Paul with financial support (Phil 1:5; 4:15-16). In the apostle’s mind, this act was a gracious gospel partnership, supplying his needs so that he could defend the gospel—even in Caesar’s household (Phil 1:7; 4:10-14, 17-18, 22). The latter half of Philippians continued Paul’s argument for the church to humble itself and be unified—especially considering the opposition they faced from unbelievers. Paul addressed the church in light of the narrative shift Christ’s death and resurrection brought about in the storyline of redemptive history.
(1) In Phil 3:1-11, Paul contrasted Jewish laws and God’s grace as means of righteousness. In Phil 3:2-6, Paul described his Jewish pedigree. He was circumcised in accordance with the Abrahamic covenant and the law (Gen 17:1-14; 21:4; Exod 4:24-26; Lev 12:3). Paul’s parents circumcised him to validate Paul’s lineage to Abraham and to identify Paul with the people of God via the tribe of Benjamin. Further, Paul displayed zeal for the law by persecuting the church. He said, “But everything that was a gain to me, I have considered to be a loss because of Christ” (Phil 3:7). Paul disavowed any attempts at righteousness by the law since he had received righteousness by faith as a gift from God (Phil 3:9). From the Old Testament, Paul understood that God would judge in righteousness (Pss 96:13; 98:1-3; Isa 56:1). When the Lord awakened Paul on the road to Damascus, Paul realized that God had revealed His righteous judgement in Jesus’ death and resurrection for sinners. In Paul’s frame of mind, attempts at keeping the Jewish law would lead to a spirit of competition in the church and ultimately divide the congregation. In Phil 3:10-11, he told the Philippians that he wanted to be conformed to the death of Christ so that he could experience the power of Christ’s resurrection. Paul’s language in Phil 3:10-11 recalled his argument in Phil 2:1-11. There Paul described Christ’s humility as a model for the church; as each believer followed Christ’s example of humility and considered others more important than himself, the church would enjoy an organic sense of unity with God and each other.
(2) In Phil 4:10-20, Paul thanked the Philippians for their financial support, which was necessary since he served God outside the structures of Judaism that met the needs of priests. In Lev 22:1-16, Moses described how the offerings provided by Israel were to also sustain the priests and their families. Moses also stated that the tithes the Israelites gave to the Lord were to be used to sustain the ministry of the tabernacle and meet the daily needs of priests (Num 18:8-32; Deut 18:1-8). These principles were to be followed both annually and every three years (Deut 14:22-29). After Jesus was raised, He told the disciples to scatter and make disciples of all nations (Matt 28:18-20). Paul reminded the Corinthians that “he who plows ought to plow in hope, and he who threshes should do so in hope of sharing the crop” (1 Cor 9:10). He said that that those who serve in the progress of the gospel should earn their living from their work, the gospel (1 Cor 9:14)—a right Paul was willing to give up for a time (1 Cor 9:15-17). Paul instructed Timothy, “The elders who are good leaders should be considered worthy of an ample honorarium, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says: ‘You must not muzzle an ox that is threshing grain,’ and, ‘The laborer is worthy of his wages’” (1 Tim 5:17-18). Paul told the Philippians that he had learned to be content in any financial situation (Phil 4:11), knowing he could do all things through Christ who gave him strength (Phil 4:13). Paul was overjoyed that the Lord prompted the Philippians to contribute toward his needs in Rome (Phil 4:17-18; Acts 28:30-31).