UPDATE: You can now get the Philippians Community Commentary, enhanced with additional Bible study tools, on Kindle!
Read Philippians 1:12-18 (ESV, NIV, The Message)
Paul was nothing if not focused, his field of vision bounded above and below, across and between by a landscape of always and only the Gospel. When Paul tested and probed the value of a thing, he seemed always to do so through the filter of how widely, and how clearly, would Christ be proclaimed.
And so, it seems, that comes into view no better than in words He sent to encourage brothers and sisters in Philippi.
Loving Paul as they did, the Philippians would fret over his plight. And loving the Philippians as he did, Paul helped to divert their worry to rejoicing.
12 Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. 13 As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. 14 Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.
While he awaited trial in Rome, Paul found himself accompanied day and night by a member of the Praetorian guard. These elite soldiers, the same who would guard Caesar, numbered in the thousands. And a good number of them took their turn chained to the apostle in four-hour shifts.
One guy every four hours. Six guys a day. Seven days a week. For how ever long Paul remained under house arrest.
Paul wasn’t the type let such an opportunity slip by. Perhaps he was a captive, but so was his audience. And he played to it hour after hour, day after day.
And in a swathe of irony we see cut through the Word time and again, he reminds the good folks at Philippi that his imprisonment has made others even more bold in preaching Christ. They’ve not gone further underground for fear of the same.
They’re making more noise.
No matter what, he told them, the Gospel edges forward.
The Point of Preaching Christ
15 It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. 16 The latter do so in love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. 18 But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.
Paul gives voice to this nagging concern some of the brothers had that while folks were certainly preaching more, some were doing it for all the wrong reasons. The Gospel is pure, they worried. How can we allow it to be tainted by impure motives?
Again, Paul turns the lens a bit, bringing into sharp focus the point of preaching Christ – whether done for love or for pride, whether in honor or spite, whether to exalt Jesus or to magnify fools. The point of preaching Christ is that Christ is preached.
Even if the voice is shrill or squeaky.
No matter what, he told them, the Gospel edges forward.
Idiots and Opportunists
Paul will agree to anything – hardship and torture, imprisonment and injustice, idiots and opportunists – if only the Gospel advances.
And he had a keen eye to spot those opportunities.
How have you seen God use difficulty to His own advantage? We often resist good things done for the wrong reasons – how have you seen God’s purposes flourish through the efforts of those with questionable motives?
So often I get frustrated when I see people taking God’s Word, or His institutions, and using them for their own purposes. Today — especially — I needed this reminder that regardless of the motives behind it, if people are preaching God we can rejoice. Paul really modeled his command to rejoice in all circumstances! It gives me a check when I start complaining about circumstances to remember that even in his imprisonment he found something to be thankful for. It’s a challenge to look for the blessing in all of my situations.
Melissa, it makes me crazy too. Like it’s up to me to know the next person’s motives. Paul wasn’t afraid to get up in someone’s face if he thought they were in the wrong — but on this, because no matter what Christ was preached, he stood down. I can learn a lot from that…
I’ve certainly seen God use my difficulties to bring me to Him….does that count? I got to the very end of me….and there He was, waiting.
Thanks, Lyla, for highlighting Paul’s unrelenting focus on the only thing that really matters.
Does it count? You kidding me? Sometimes I find myself in the midst of pain insisting He tell me what it is He thinks I have to know so I can learn it and get out. He sure does use our difficulties to draw us in. Nothing like a little helplessness… And, yeah. that counts. 🙂
Even though Paul was a prisoner, his imprisonment never ended his missionary activity but it expanded it for himself and for others. In fact, the bonds destroyed the barriers. Paul’s bonds had removed the barriers and given him access to the flower of the Roman army like Lyla Lindquist had stated. His bonds had been the medicine of courage to the brethren at Philippi.
When it came to others preaching the Gospel who’s motive were right, Paul knew nothing of personal jealousy or of personal resentment. So long as Jesus Christ was preached, he did not care who received credit and the prestige. He did not care what other preachers said about him, or how unfriendly they were to him. All that mattered was that Christ was preached. If we know ( or think we know) some things that are wrong with people who are exemplifying the wrong motives Paul express with those who preach the Gospel, maybe we should take the position Paul takes in the first 11 verses of Chapter 1 and pray for them and rejoice that the Gospel is being preached.
What a great thought, Charles, instead of getting myself all bent out of shape over someone ministering for (what I think are) the wrong reasons. Pray Paul’s prayer for them, especially this from vs. 9-10: “that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ.” Great encouragement, thank you1
I’ve been looking for an online group discussing Philippians and am so glad I’ve come across this site. I’m enjoying reading everyone’s reflections.
Something I have been pondering is whether verse 18 fits in our context the same as it does in the early Church. In the days of the early Church people were hearing the gospel for the first time. Even if the gospel was preached from impure motives Paul could see that more people would hear of Jesus. There was no such thing as bad publicity.
However, today I am so saddened to see that possibly the main reason people don’t follow Christ is hypocrisy of people who call themselves Christians but who aren’t following Christ. In this way, I think in our context people have heard of Christ, and perhaps they need to see more examples of people following Christ, rather than their hearts becoming harder to what they perceive as an empty gospel?
this is a great observation and point about how we share the Gospel, and the implications are pretty huge. it reminds me of that old saying (was it Augustine who said it?)… i will preach the gospel at all times, and when necessary use words.