By Christopher VanDusen
In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, the apostle writes to a church that he dearly loves, as he awaits a hearing with Caesar to decide his fate in his house arrest, due to false charges brought against him by the Jews. In the first eleven verses, he introduces himself and his pastoral trainee, Timothy, and expresses his thankfulness and joy for the Philippians’ partnership with him in his missionary preaching of the gospel. In verses 12-18a of this first chapter, he explains how the Lord is using his imprisonment to spread the preaching of the gospel:
“I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.
Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.” (ESV)
In this passage, Paul describes five good results of his imprisonment:
- The Cause of Christ is Well Known. (vss. 12-13)
- The Courage of Christians is Way More. (v. 14)
- His Competitors Preach with Malice. (vss 15, 17)
- His Co-Workers Preach with Pure Motives. (vss. 15-16)
- He’s Cheerful Either Way. (v. 18a)
The Cause of Christ is Well Known
The first good result of his imprisonment that Paul describes is that the reason he’s imprisoned has been made well known:
“I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ.”
He starts off by expressing his desire that the Philippians know that his imprisonment has resulted in good. He didn’t want them to think that he wasn’t accomplishing any gospel preaching while he was imprisoned. On the contrary, “the whole imperial guard” and “all the rest” learned that his imprisonment was “for Christ”.
First, who does he mean by “the imperial guard”? This included an elite group of Roman soldiers that was tasked with guarding Caesar, and his household. Some of these soldiers may have been used to guard Paul while he was under house arrest. However they found out, they knew that the reason he was imprisoned was that he had been preaching “Christ”, or “the Messiah” — the prophesied anointed Prophet, Priest, and King of the Old Testament who came to be God’s message, to satisfy God’s wrath through His death, and to reign as God’s King in heaven and on earth.
But who does Paul mean by “all the rest”? He seems to have in mind all the rest of the people connected with Caesar’s household, including the servants and/or slaves. Of course, as Acts 28 shows, many Jews and Christians in Rome also knew that Paul was imprisoned simply for preaching Christ. This was a great advance of the gospel in Rome. Caesar himself would, if he hadn’t already, come to know that there was a man who had appealed to him for a dismissal of the charges against him because he was a preacher of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The Courage of Christians is Way More
The second result of his imprisonment that Paul describes in this section is that Christians have gained way more courage to preach the gospel:
“And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.”
First, notice that he says most of the brothers, or adelphoi — brothers and sisters — have become confident. Although it’s not all of them, it’s still encouraging to him that most of them are encouraged by his imprisonment.
But how have they been impacted? They’ve become “confident in the Lord“. Their confidence, or trust, isn’t in Paul, or in themselves, but in the Lord. Why? Because it was the Lord who ultimately caused Paul to be imprisoned, and the Lord who continued to use Paul to share the gospel while imprisoned. They were confident that if the Lord could take care of and use Paul while imprisoned, then He could use them as well, and take care of them, even if they were imprisoned for preaching the gospel.
And what is the result of their confidence in the Lord? They’re “much more bold to speak the word without fear”. The Greek word translated “bold” could also be translated “courageous”, and carries the idea of having freedom of speech, with nothing holding someone back, including fear. Why don’t they have any fear to speak the word, or message, of the gospel? Because they’re trusting in the Lord, knowing that Paul is in prison for doing the very thing that they’re doing.
His Competitors Preach with Malice
The third result of Paul’s imprisonment is that his competitors preach the gospel out of malice, or evil intent and ill will toward him:
“Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry . . . out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment.”
Isn’t this astounding? They’re doing the most loving thing that anyone can do for another person, and yet they’re doing it to hurt someone. But why exactly are they doing this?
First of all, they’re envious of Paul’s popularity and fame in Rome. They want to be known, talked about, and loved. Therefore, they set themselves against him as his rivals, and seek to preach Christ more than he can, and to more people than he can.
Second, they’re selfishly ambitious. That is, they only care about themselves, and their popularity and fame from preaching the gospel. Thus, they want to “afflict” or “distress” Paul while he’s imprisoned. They want him to envy them, and to agonize over the fact that he can’t be out of his apartment, preaching the gospel whenever he has the opportunity. And how are they seeking to accomplish this? By preaching and proclaiming the gospel!
This is much like a famous event in the ministry of 18th century evangelist George Whitefield. He was one of the greatest preachers of the gospel at that time, and one day, a man decided to make fun of him with his friends by pretending to preach the gospel like him. While he was mock-preaching, the message he was preaching convicted him of his sin, and led to his salvation! As Joseph said in Genesis, what men intend for evil, God uses for good.
Their Co-Workers Preach with Pure Motives
The fourth result of Paul’s imprisonment is that some preachers preach the gospel for good reasons. Paul includes three reasons that they do this:
“Some preach Christ . . . from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel.”
First, in contrast to the ill will of Paul’s competitors, Paul’s co-workers preach from good will. That is, they have a good purpose in doing so.
And what’s their motivation? Love, since they know that Paul’s “put here for the defense of the gospel”. But what’s the connection between their love and their knowledge? To what or whom is the love directed toward, so that the fact that they know Paul’s imprisoned to defend the gospel motivates them to preach it?
Well, since Paul is contrasting them with the other preachers who are expressing hatred toward him, it seems that at the very least, the love that’s driving them is love for Paul. That is, because they love Paul, they want him to have a greater opportunity to defend the gospel against more people who’ve been exposed to it. The more people know about the gospel in Rome, then the more impact Paul’s defense to Caesar and to those who visit him will be. Also, more people are likely to ask Paul about the gospel, so he can do what the Lord called him to do — preach and defend the gospel. To sum it up, these preachers show love for Paul by preaching the gospel because they know that he’ll be used more to defend the gospel, the more people know what it is — and this is what Paul is living for.
However, I don’t think it’s adequate to leave it at that, since Paul is talking about Christians, and the proper object of love in evangelism is first Christ, and secondly, people. So this love has to be involved as well. Because they love Christ and the gospel, knowing that Paul is going to defend it for them motivates them to preach it to people out of love for them — their souls.
He’s Cheerful Either Way
The last result of Paul’s imprisonment, and his response to all the other ones, is that he rejoices:
“What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.”
Here, Paul recognizes that some preach the gospel “in pretense”, or with hidden, evil motives, while some preach it sincerely. Either way, the message of Christ is proclaimed, and he’s happy and excited about that. Why? Because the gospel is the message that most glorifies God and the Lord Jesus Christ, and is the only message that save people from God’s wrath, and turn them into His children.
So, if you’re a Christian, do you desire to see every situation you’re in advance the gospel?
Do you trust in the Lord to be bold to speak the gospel without fear?
Do you share the gospel out of envy, rivalry, or selfish ambition or from good will and love?
Do you rejoice whenever you learn that the gospel has or is being proclaimed, no matter how it’s being proclaimed?
Do you even know what the gospel is? The gospel is the good news that God sent His eternal and divine Son to earth to become the man Jesus, to suffer on a cross to take the punishment for our sins, to rise from the dead, and to take Him into heaven as our King and Judge. He commands everyone to change their minds and trust in Christ alone to receive His forgiveness for their sins, since He’s going to judge everyone by everything they’ve done, and punish all who haven’t trusted in Christ as King and Savior. Please make sure you have peace with God through trusting in Christ alone.
All Scripture quotations are from:
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.