by Delphine Manley
Paul knows how much the Philippians love him and how much they are concerned about his well-being. Once he has expressed his feelings for them and tells them how he prays for them, he is free to speak of his present condition. He knows they want to know how he is getting along while in prison. Is he adjusting? Is this man who led them to Christ going to be able to survive when he is not free to continue his travels proclaiming the Gospel of Christ? Only words from Paul himself will be sufficient.
My Chains Advance the Gospel
12 But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel, 13 so that it has become evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest, that my chains are in Christ; 14 and most of the brethren in the Lord, having become confident by my chains, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.
Paul is adamant that the Philippians understand the Gospel has been advanced because of his imprisonment. He is not free to travel and preach but the Good News of the Gospel is not bound because he is bound. His imprisonment has had a definite positive effect on the advancement.
But how can this be? Paul had complete confidence in God. In another of his letters Paul wrote,and we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). Paul knew that God was in charge no matter what the situation seemed to say to the contrary. He believed that regardless of his circumstances he could trust in God for the outcome.
We need to understand the special circumstances of Paul’s imprisonment; the reason for his imprisonment is recorded in Acts 21-26. These chapters tell of Paul’s arrest in the Temple of Jerusalem. He was accused of teaching against the people of Israel and the Law of Moses, as well as an accusation that he defiled the temple by bringing Gentiles into its walls. These accusations came from the Jews who wanted to kill him. Even though Paul had done nothing against the Israelites, his own people, or the customs of their ancestors, he was made a prisoner in Jerusalem and was handed over to the Romans. After questioning him the Romans wanted to release him, because they found he had done nothing for which he deserved to die. The Jews violently opposed his release, which forced Paul, even though he had no accusations against his people, to appeal to the Emperor. Because of Paul’s personal appeal to speak his case before the Emperor he was taken to Rome by ship with other prisoners by a Roman army officer named Julius. After surviving a shipwreck, he arrived in Rome where he was allowed to rent a house. People could come and go to take care of Paul’s needs which explains why Timothy and Epaphroditus were allowed to be with him in prison. However, twenty-four hours a day Paul was chained at the wrist to a member of the palace guard. When you consider the fact that Paul remained in this situation for two years awaiting his case before the Emperor, and if the guard he was chained to changed twice or three times in twenty-four hours, Paul undoubtedly was able to penetrate a large portion, if not all, of the Palace Guard with the good news of the Gospel.
With this background concerning his imprisonment we have a better understanding of how the whole palace guard could know why Paul was there. Paul was a very social person and with great boldness proclaimed the good news about Jesus Christ. He undoubtedly spoke of his Lord to each guard to whom he was chained. If he did not speak to them directly we know the guards heard everything Paul said to Timothy, Epaphroditus, or anyone who was visiting him. Commentators tell us Paul usually dictated his letter so the guard chained to him at the time of each dictation heard the content of each letter.
During the two year period Paul’s reason for being there became well known to everyone, especially the Palace Guard. He was there because of his stand for Christ. He had been imprisoned because of false accusations but still desired to plead his case before the Roman Emperor. This, however, did not squelch Paul’s testimony and everyone who came into contact with him could not help but be moved by the love for Christ that this man exhibited. It moved through the Palace Guard like a strong wind through the trees.
Another way Paul’s circumstances further advanced the Gospel was in regard to the brothers who were on the outside preaching the message of salvation. One would naturally expect these preachers to be hesitant and wary in preaching because of the peril of their great leader. Not so! Paul’s brave endurance of his situation, his persistent discourse concerning Christ to all who came within his reach, and even his heroic readiness to die for Christ, instead kindled anew their courage and zeal, and made them loud proclaimers of the truth.
Paul wanted the Philippians to understand that what appeared to be against him personally was actually being used for Christ’s good and was advancing the Gospel, not hindering it.
Preaching Advances the Gospel
15 Some indeed preach Christ even from envy and strife, and some also from goodwill: 16 The former preach Christ from selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my chains; 17 but the latter out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel. 18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice. 19 For I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayer and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ,
As we look at verses fifteen through eighteen we get to see Paul’s response to personal offenses against him. He speaks of two groups of people preaching in Rome during his confinement there. Each group has a different motive for their preaching. He has just mentioned in verse fourteen the group of Christian brothers who have a new boldness in preaching because of Paul’s circumstances. This group was of benefit in advancing the Gospel. The second group had another motive for preaching Christ. This group was moved by envy toward the apostle. It is believed that they thought that their preaching would somehow make matters worse for Paul in his imprisonment. These people considered themselves Christians but preached from a jealous and quarrelsome spirit. The brethren, to whom Paul referred first, preached from love believing that Paul was divinely appointed by God to defend the Gospel. The second group does not proclaim Christ sincerely, but rather from selfish ambition hoping to cause Paul trouble.
How would this make you feel if you were in Paul’s shoes? Human nature may be offended, be hurt, get angry, or pity itself. Not Paul! Paul is concerned not with himself, but his concern is for the advancement of the Gospel. With his eyes on Jesus he has no time to feel offended. He had died to his own feelings and his concentration is on getting the news of Christ out. Paul says that the motives of the two groups don’t matter to him. The news of Christ is being preached, and whether the motives are right or wrong, Christ is being proclaimed and Paul rejoices because the Gospel is advancing. His great soul rises to the petty opposition of those who want to cause him trouble, in the knowledge that the name of his Master is more widely proclaimed. In fact, he says he rejoices now, and yes, he will continue to rejoice.
Paul reveals his support system in verse nineteen. He feels the effects of the prayers of the Philippians. He knows they are continually upholding him in their communication with the Father. Though he is separated from them by many miles they are together in the spirit of prayer. That is half of his support system. The second half is the Holy Spirit, who would remain with him to the end, whatever the end might be. Paul is confident that the end will mean freedom and this will be the result due to his tremendous support system.
To Live or To Die
20 according to my earnest expectation and hope that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death.
Would Paul live or die? He was uncertain of the outcome. It could go either way, but to Paul, either way would mean advancement. In verse twenty Paul uses a word in the Greek which only he used. He probably coined the word himself. The word is apokaradokia. Apo means away from;kara means the head; dokein means to look. Paul eagerly, and with concentration and intensity turned his gaze away from everything negative and focused intently on the one object of his desire, Jesus. Whether Paul lives or dies, his one desire is to bring honor to Christ and that the Gospel ALWAYS ADVANCE.
21 For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
In life Paul desires to speak the truth with boldness and courage, to bring honor to Christ, even though he is in prison and faces possible death. But he also knows that in his death, Christ will be honored. So which should he choose? For him personally, to live is Christ: his whole life, whether in prison or in freedom, with all his energy of body and soul, is consecrated to making Christ known as the only Savior. But to die would be gain. Heaven would be immeasurable gain over his present condition, and if he dies a martyr’s death it would be known to all that he died for Christ; so either way Christ will be magnified in his body. His death would mean an end to his persecution, suffering, and imprisonment and would be more desirable than life at this point, and he would be immediately with the Lord.
22 But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell.
Paul does not know which he should choose. Here he looks at his reason for life. He was a called Apostle. Continued life would mean continued ministry, with a harvest of souls saved and believers comforted.
23 For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better.
Paul leans toward the choice of death in verse twenty-three. Clarke’s Commentary explains Paul’s leaning this way. “It appears to be a metaphor taken from the commander of the vessel, in a foreign port, who feels a strong desire to set sail, and get to his own country and family; but this desire is counterbalanced by a conviction that the general interests of the voyage may be best answered by his longer stay in port where his vessel now rides; for he is not in dock, he is not aground, but rides an anchor in the port, and may at any hour weigh and be gone. Such was the condition of the apostle: he was not at home, but although he was abroad it was his employer’s business: he wishes to return, and is cleared out and ready to set sail, but he has not received his last orders from his owner, and whatever desire he may feel to be at home he will faithfully wait till his final orders arrive.”
24 Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you.
Now we see Paul lean back in the other direction toward the needs of his beloved Philippians. They are more needful of his living. The needs of the church offset his personal desire.
25 And being confident of this, I know that I shall remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy of faith, 26 that your rejoicing for me may be more abundant in Jesus Christ by my coming to you again.
Paul spills out his hopes for the Philippians here. He shifts gears from what he would choose if the choice were his, to what was best for the Philippians. He seems to suddenly realize that his return to Philippi would result in the enlargement of their faith and a deepening of their joy. If the Philippians could witness Paul’s steadfastness in the midst of unfair and troubling circumstances, they would then know how a man of God responds to such situations and Jesus shines through such a man. If Paul could face the worst and come out rejoicing in the Jesus who sourced him through the trouble then the Philippians would see what Jesus can do through a life surrendered to Him. Paul’s desire to see the Gospel ALWAYS ADVANCE is once again revealed to the Philippians by his resignation to their needs over his own.
Whatever Happens Always Advance
27 Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel, 28 and not in any way terrified by your adversaries, which is to them a proof of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that from God.
Paul speaks of their conversation as becoming the gospel of Christ. He does not refer to just their speech, but the Greek term here embraces the whole moral life. They are citizens of a spiritual country, and as such they are to live as good citizens ought. The reference here is to their church life. Whether Paul should come and see them, or, remain absent, but hear from them, he expected them to be a strong church and show a style of conduct worthy of the Gospel of Christ. D. D Whedon writes in Whedon’s Commentary on the New Testament, that “they were to (1) show firm unity in a common spirit in thought and purpose; (2) be of one mind in soul, feeling and interest; (3) strive together for the vital faith which the Gospel gives; and (4) in nothing terrified stand with steadfast courage against all opposition. Only a united front will advance the Gospel.”
This church was experiencing persecution for advancing the Gospel just as Paul was being persecuted. He could not miss the opportunity to encourage them in their time of suffering. Up to this point he has been speaking to them of his own response to his circumstances. Now he speaks to them of their response to their circumstances. The Philippian Christians are to stand fast in spite of their affliction; but it is only the Lord who enables them to stand in their evil day. Then their persecutors will witness their calm courage and they may see the reality of their own sin. They will set such an example that the pagans might be disgusted and revolted by their own way of life and realize that Christians have something which they do not possess. Perhaps they will seek to share in what the Christian possesses.
29 For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, 30 having the same conflict which you saw in me and now hear is in me.
It is the privilege of the Philippians, says Paul, to serve Christ, both by believing in Him and suffering for Him. Now they can take part in the battle with Paul. When Paul first came to Philippi, they witnessed him fight his own battle. They saw him scourged and imprisoned for his faith as recorded in Acts 16. Now they are in the midst of their own persecution for the same reason. They know firsthand what Paul experienced and is now experiencing. Paul’s resource is Jesus. The Philippians have an excellent example for allowing Jesus to source them as well.
Paul says, in prison – ALWAYS ADVANCE; when men offend you – ALWAYS ADVANCE; in life or in death – ALWAYS ADVANCE; and when you are called to suffer for the cause of Christ – ALWAYS ADVANCE.
As you and I advance together, remember “I have you in my heart.”