“For the Advance of the Gospel”

Philippians 1:12-18a


Paul’s letter to the Philippians begins in a manner that was common for a letter of friendship during this time period, Paul offers information concerning his current circumstances. In verse 27, Paul will turn to hear more about the circumstances with those in Philippi and later on in chapter 2, Paul will put the two together. 


Even though Paul is writing about his circumstances, it is interesting to note that Paul does not focus so much on himself, but rather on his view of what has happened to him. Although with Paul, this point may be mute. For Paul, his personal life was so wrapped up in his calling of spreading the gospel that it would be difficult to separate the two. 

Paul’s reflection on his circumstances focus on that fact that his confinement has furthered the gospel in two ways:


> The gospel has been presented to both his captors and the guards around him.


> The believers in Rome were beginning to proclaim Christ more actively.


Verses 12-14 reveal that contrary to what the Philippians may have expected, Paul’s imprisonment has turned out to be the very thing that they should have desired. Paul continues to explain that his response to adversity is how it should be for one whom Christ and the gospel are their mission. 


Did you catch that? The point regarding adversity? 

The very things that look bad or not positive in the world’s eyes, can be the very things God uses to further His gospel. If we let them. 


Paul wants those in Philippi not to be anxious for him, because of his circumstances. Being imprisoned has turned out not to be a hindrance to preaching the gospel, but rather an enhancement. 


Stop for a moment and think about this statement. Paul isn’t saying that imprisonment isn’t a hindrance to him personally, for I am sure it is. Yet, Paul looks beyond his own personal needs and focuses on his role as an evangelist and sees how being imprisoned has worked out to advance the gospel, in a way he hadn’t even considered. 


Paul will eventually reflect on his own feelings towards imprisonment, but for now he wants to make sure his friends in Philippi comprehend how it has affected the spreading of the gospel. Paul explains that he is not just a man in chains, but that first he is a man in Christ. He equates the chains he finds himself in as a manifestation of his discipleship and therefore he is participating in the suffering of Christ himself. Paul is not focusing on the suffering, as being good, he is focusing on the results of making Christ known to others, being the same as Christ’s suffering for us, which gave us a means to have a personal relationship with God. 


Logically one could read this and possibly think, Paul was being rather fanatic about the whole discipleship business. Suffering? Being put in jail? Good for him, why would he think differently, he started his life committed to religion by becoming a Pharisee. 

What about us regular folks? I have a job I have to do in order to take care of my family. Or, I’m not as educated as Paul in theology and discipleship. I can’t just drop everything and spend all my time as an evangelist. 


If you can relate to those statements, then this letter is written to you. Those who received this letter were just that, regular folks. Paul is writing to encourage them to follow his example, as he follows Christ. 


Paul then goes on to describe two groups of people that have responded to his being “in chains for Christ.” The first group is that of the Praetorian Guard. Paul was in Rome at this time and under house arrest. The emperor, Nero, had his own elite troops stationed there. 

They would have rotated on four hour shifts which means Paul would have had the opportunity to personally meet and talk with most of them. Which made it possible for the whole guard to know the reason for his bonds. 


The second group Paul refers to in responding to his being “in chains for Christ,” was those in the Christian community, outside his confinement. To this regard, Paul reflects on how his confinement has given encouragement to his brothers and sisters in the Lord to speak more courageously and fearlessly. This is why Paul wanted to come to Rome in the first place. He hadn’t planned on coming as a criminal, regardless, he was able to reach out to the church in Rome and encourage them. 

Again, Paul does not focus on his personal frustration. 

Instead,  he sees although it may not be what he would prefer, nonetheless, he recognizes how God has used his curtailment to prod others to get more involved in spreading the gospel. No ego trip for Paul here. Although he would rather be out spreading the gospel, it doesn’t seem to matter to him, as long as someone is doing the job. 


It is also important to recognize that those who have been encouraged to speak the word of God were doing so, not because of Paul’s imprisonment, but because they were already “brothers and sisters” in Christ. They had already been involved with spreading the gospel. Paul’s imprisonment was instrumental, or the means God was using, to embolden them to do so more courageously and fearlessly. This, in turn, brings Paul joy as we see in verse 18. 


Before Paul gets to proclaiming his joy, he also has to address another reality, that although his brothers and sisters in Christ may be emboldened to preach the gospel, the motive of some was not out of love for Christ but more out of being able to rub salt into Paul’s wound. 


Again, we see how the character of Paul had changed upon seeing Christ face to face. Prior to Paul’s conversion, had anyone been aggressive in order to add to his personal affliction, Paul would have immediately retaliated. Can’t you see it? The hairs on the back of his neck would have risen and his face muscles would have tightened and he would have lashed back with full vengeance, in order to protect his personal honor. Not so now. Notice Paul’s large heartedness. He seems to overlook the personal attack for the joy of seeing the advancement of the gospel. 


Verse 15 confirms that Paul is aware that there were those who were preaching Christ out of “envy and rivalry.” Which by the way, Paul puts those two words elsewhere on a list of vices, in Galatians 5: 20-21 and Romans 1:29. Those doing so, out of envy toward Paul, may have had a personal delight in being able to kick an opponent when they were down, and possibly viewed Paul’s imprisonment as evidence of God’s judgement on Paul and their opportunity to preach Christ more “correctly.” 


Like that doesn’t happen today? 


Paul also refers to those who were preaching the Gospel out of love, with a motive of “goodwill.” From their perspective, Paul was not able to be out and preaching the gospel, so they stepped in to fill in the gap. 


Verses 16 & 17 elaborate on how these two groups relate to Paul’s “chains.” He begins with the latter of the two, his friends, those who were motivated out of their love for Paul, a wounded comrade in arms, who they saw as being divinely appointed to the preaching of the gospel, was being held captive and unable to do so. Paul’s captivity stemmed from his religious view. From Paul’s point of view, it was the gospel itself that was on trial, not him. Thus his imprisonment was divinely appointed. Which is where the other group had gotten it wrong. 


The other group was “proclaiming Christ,” on selfish ambition, in a personal battle against Paul, supposing that by doing so, they would “stir up trouble for (Paul) while (he) was in chains.” They were thinking with a worldly view, focusing on Paul and his affliction. Whereas, the first group was focusing on the godly view, that of furthering the gospel. 

Therefore, Paul, although most likely was irritated by their actions, was not affected, as he saw their impure actions as still advancing the gospel, his ultimate goal. 


Because of this, Paul rejoices. Above all, the advancement of the gospel was his goal. Note, his joy was not over his imprisonment, which would be a morbid way of “thanking God for all things.” Paul’s joy comes from his perspective which is seen through his theology. Here are three attributes of Paul’s theology that allow him to get beyond such thinking. 


  1. Paul has learned, by the grace of God, to see everything from the divine perspective. Paul knows it has nothing to do with himself, but through his deep conviction of God’s divine plan, which included: the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ; 

the giving of His Spirit, who was now carrying it out through His church. Which now meant through him and the brothers and sisters joining him. Paul wasn’t looking through rose-tinted glasses, but through lenses created by Calvary, which revealed a bigger picture, where everything fits, even suffering and death. 

  1. Paul’s theology has one passion, Christ and the gospel. Everything he did and said was to be done in the light of Christ. Whether life or death, for Paul, it meant Christ. 
  2. It was Paul’s passion for Christ that led to his understanding of discipleship. Paul understood that to be a disciple of Christ, one needed to take up their cross, having a fellowship of sharing in Christ’s suffering. To be ready to be poured out like a drink offering in ministry, for the sake of others. 


Paul’s big heartedness can be attributed to these three theological realities. Rather than focusing on himself and doing what the religious elite viewed as correct, Paul chose to:


> take a divine perspective; look at the bigger picture

> focus on Christ alone, 

> be ready and prepared to do whatever it takes, for the sake of others to hear, know and accept the gospel


How big hearted are we?


Are we so determined to defend the gospel that we lose sight of its purpose? I am reminded of a quote, “Christians are supposed to bring others to the cross, not nail them to it.” It would do well for us to consider Paul’s theology and put it into practice for ourselves.


This week as we listen to the news, go to work, spend time with friends and family, let us do so big-heartedly, 


> taking a divine perspective; not focus on “our view” but look at the bigger picture


> place our focus one Christ alone: What Would Jesus Do?


> let go of our comfort, our desires, our rights and wrongs and be ready and prepared to do whatever it takes, for the sake of others, to hear, know and accept God’s love, and come closer to Him.

Let’s pray.