What motivates you in your walk with Christ? Do you hold on to that motivation no matter what? The central driving goal of Paul’s life was to see Christ preached. Philippians 1:12-18 covers Paul’s joy at the spread of the gospel in spite of and because of his circumstances.
Part 3 of a whole book study series called “Joy in Christ: A Study Through Philippians.”
12 I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, 13 so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. 14 And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.
It’s so clear from these verses the centrality of the gospel in Paul’s life.
The Gospel Advanced
Normally we might think that if someone was a minister of the gospel as Paul was and had been imprisoned that his ministry had come to a screeching halt. Paul didn’t see it that way, but instead sees how it has turned out for the greater progress of the gospel as the NAS translates verse 12. This means Paul actually compares the progress of the gospel in his current circumstances with how it might have progressed had he remained at liberty — and sees it as better!
Rather than chafing at his imprisonment, his perspective is one of encouragement and rejoicing. In fact, he points out that his circumstances have two surprising results:
Near and Far
1) An impact for Christ on the guards and “everyone else.” This reference to “everyone else” is surmised to mean that generally throughout the whole city (possibly even in the emperor’s household), the reason for Paul’s chains was well known. I can imagine that Paul not only told these people surrounding him about Christ, but they may have overheard him praying and that may have impacted them. We are not directly given the results (that is, anyone specifically who may have been saved as a result of his imprisonment becoming well known); however, at the end of the letter, Paul sends greetings from those in Caesar’s household, which could mean that some there had been converted. (see Phil. 4:22)
At the very least, the life in Christ that Paul is living out, even in bonds or chains, as he calls it, surely had to make those men stop and wonder what it was that was so significant that Paul was in bondage over it. (related: Eph. 6:20) Perhaps it was even a starting place for him to preach the gospel to them.
This shows us that no matter what the circumstances of our lives may be, if you are available, ready to preach the truth of God’s word, God can use you. We are far more shortsighted as humans than God, whose eternal, infinite vision stands outside of time and situations. But be assured, God can sovereignly work outside the “box” of our current circumstances.
2) Increased fearlessness among other believers in Rome. Rather than being afraid or in mortal fear of preaching the gospel, Paul and his circumstances served to motivate others to share the truth. The word for becoming confident (Gr. tolmaó) gives the sense of daring to do something that is against the grain, of showing active, bold courage. More than this, the word conveys the idea that it is not a stupid risk, but rather that the risk is worth the reward.
And these believers didn’t simply rely upon their own strength or intellect; they were confident in the Lord, that is, in being instruments of God’s power in and through them for the purpose of impacting others.
We can bring this to today’s “here and now” by seeing how it puts our own fears of sharing the gospel in perspective. Many of us know about Christians around the world who experience persecution and imprisonment because they were faithful to the gospel. Comparatively speaking, most of us who live in the west (USA) have virtually unlimited freedom to talk about our beliefs. We do not live in fear of being jailed.
Those of you who street preach, of course, have endured physical and mental abuse. But most of us in the visible church do not experience that. Perhaps this can be a greater incentive to us and encourage us that we do not need to fear to speak the truth — that many in the world who call Christ their Savior undergo much more for the sake of the gospel than we do. Speak the truth and let God’s Spirit work!
15 Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. 16 The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment.
The first question to wrestle with in these verses is, who is Paul referring to with the words some and others? Who are these people who are preaching Christ with these mixed motives?
Context seems to indicate that Paul is referring to fellow believers. I think this for two reasons: 1) He has just made a reference in verse 14 to “the brethren,” and 2) he makes a reference in verse 18 to Christ being proclaimed. This would not be the case if these people were preaching some other form of the gospel, surely a thing Paul would not have tolerated, much less rejoiced over.
Two different kinds of preaching of the gospel take place here.
A whole slew of motives for some proclaiming Christ rise to the surface on Paul’s list:
- From envy or jealousy over Paul’s success as an apostle.
- From rivalry, for appearance’s sake, in pretense, or from a desire to be more popular than Paul.
- Out of selfish ambition, perhaps seeking to be adulated, have followers, or gain merit in people’s eyes.
- Not sincerely, but with impure, self-centered purposes.
- Thinking to afflict Paul, in the sense of adding to his distress or causing him to feel additional pressure or affliction.
What’s really shocking is that these are believers acting in these sinful, hypocritical ways!
Moreover, let’s ask ourselves, do we do this today? Do we put forth the gospel in ways that are more honoring to us than to Christ? Do we want others to think we’re really great or cool, to tell us how holy and godly we are? You can speak the truth in such a manner that you do not alter it, but yet your motivations for doing so are not of God. It’s something to examine yourself about.
At the same time, others are preaching Christ with the best of intentions:
- From good will, with kind intent and the hope of building upon the work already begun.
- Out of love, a godly affection and desire for the truth to be known.
- From the knowledge that Paul’s circumstances are a result of his commitment to Christ, understanding that God has appointed him to be an apostle and wanting to support him in that mission.
Here we see a balance of grace and truth — the gospel preached not in a halfhearted, compromised way, but with pure, godly intent. This is not leaving out the hard parts of the gospel such as sin, hell, and repentance simply for the sake of being loving. It also includes the good news that it is (gospel means “good news”) about Christ coming to earth in human form, dying as a sinless man for our sins, and his resurrection. Love tells the whole truth, but preaches it in such a way as to draw the person toward not push them away from God.
The Truth Proclaimed Brings Joy
18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.
Paul asks, so with all that I’ve told you about how the gospel is being preached, where should we go from here? What should we do? Instead of plotting some kind of revenge like a natural human might do or planning how to defend himself from those people preaching to distress him, Paul keeps his eyes on the goal: Christ preached. This is why we hear him say that he rejoices. Paul trusts God enough to know that even if someone is preaching out of nastiness, in a mocking way, or from selfish motives, God’s Spirit can still use it for His glory.
Keep your eyes on the goal, Paul exhorts the Philippian believers (and us). The opportunity to preach the gospel of Christ and to have the confidence that God works in and through us is a reason for us to rejoice.