A woman about to undergo surgery for breast cancer gained national attention last year when a video captured her uncharacteristic response to her approaching operation. Refusing to give in to fear, she asked that music be played, and she began to dance in the pre-operating room. Her nurses, anesthesiologist, and doctors joined in. Friends and family participated via Skype. Anyone watching would think they were witnessing a party, not the serious moments leading up to an operation. Together, in an unexpected and joyful way, they shared in her affliction.
The apostle Paul thanks the believers in Philippi for the ways they have shared in his affliction. Apparently, they had a long history of care and compassion for him throughout his many sufferings, for which he was deeply thankful. He reminded them that when he first preached the gospel, they were the only ones who stood by him.
They had also financially supported him, supplying his physical needs as he undertook his God-given task. This was not a one-time display of charity but an ongoing participation in the work of his ministry. Notably, Paul says that he did not desire the gift itself; rather, he desired what the gift did for the one who sent it. He knew that by giving we receive blessing. This is consistent with the message of Scripture, which teaches that God loves a cheerful giver. When we give, we receive back more than we have given.
What good friends the people of Philippi were to Paul! They were with him from the very beginning. They did not refuse or forget any of his needs. Even in the end, during this time of imprisonment, they stood by his side, sending everything he needed through their friend Epaphroditus.