As Paul writes to his beloved Philippians from house arrest in Rome, he’s intent on 1) thanking them for their generous contribution, 2) dissuading them from further giving, since they are impoverished and he is well-supplied, and 3) addressing the divisions that are creeping into their fellowship. He does so by setting before them a self-less kingdom minded example to follow (Phil 3:17; 4:9).
The kingdom advances
In chapter 1, vv. 12-18a, Paul wants to assure the Philippians that he is okay. And yet, he manages to take the focus off of himself. He is okay, he rejoices in fact, because the kingdom is advancing. The brotherhood of believers is more and more emboldened to preach the gospel as they see his own joy in the midst of trials. They are more and more convinced that imprisonment or even death is no hindrance to the kingdom and the glory of God. And so they speak the word boldly. Not all, however, have such pure motives. Some are eager to capitalize on Paul’s incarceration, using the opportunity to garner followers of their own, for their own selfish gain. While Paul boasted that he could preach the gospel “free of charge”, others were intent on worldly gain. “No matter,” says Paul, not because they have nothing to fear from their impure motives, but as it touches Paul, he rejoices. Assuming that Paul shares their selfish motives, they think that he will be further afflicted in his imprisonment as he sees his “following” falling away. They misjudge the apostle, however, who rejoices that Christ is preached, whether from pure motives or false.
To Live is Christ; To die, gain
In vv. 18b-26, Paul reemphasizes his joy, knowing that his own suffering will bring about his salvation. This is consistent with Paul’s teaching elsewhere that, “Through Christ we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Rom 5:2–5 ESV)
Further, the ‘worst’ the Romans could do to him would be Paul’s greatest blessing (cf. Luke 12:4–5; 2 Cor 5:7–8). On the other hand, since the Father has tied our blessing to the glorification of His Son, and since, by His grace, he has created us in Christ for good works that will glorify Jesus, life for Paul is all about the glory of God. (cf. Eph 1:3-14; 2:4-10)
Paul, an Example of the Kingdom Mindset
Paul sets this kingdom mindset before the Philippians as the solution to their problem with divisions. He provides the example, as he considers their welfare more important than his own, as he sets aside what is “far better” for the sake of their edification. And he provides the example, as he considers “fruitful labor”, glorifying as it is to God, more important than his own relief. When we recognize that we are all saved by grace, and have no cause for boasting, and when we recognize that our chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him for ever, when, in fact, every decision of our lives is based upon the questions, “what will glorify God more” and “what will benefit our neighbor most”, the root of divisiveness falls away. (cf. James 4:1ff)