When I began my study of this passage, I figured it was pretty straightforward. To be honest, I was a bit peevish to see that we would spend the whole Sunday School hour going over just 6 1/2 rather boring little verses. I mean, really. I figured it would take all of ten minutes to cover this passage. What in the world would we talk about for the other 50 minutes?
Then that whole living and active thing kicked in.
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.
Paul assures his friends in Philippi that his less than enviable circumstances are actually helping to move the gospel message forward. Now stop and seriously ponder this for a moment. Imagine being chained 24/7 to a burly Roman guard. Now imagine how uncomfortable it would be to sleep while chained to this guy…or how awkward to take care of certain basic human needs. Ack! Yet here we see Paul using his situation to advance the gospel. Wow!
Being a prisoner, Paul wouldn’t be able to go and preach in the synagogues as was his normal practice. Instead, we find in Acts 28 that the Jewish leaders came to him, where he sought to persuade them that Jesus was the long awaited Messiah, using the Law of Moses and the prophets.
As usual, some were indeed persuaded, while others were not, provoking debate amongst the Jewish leaders. Now this is where, in the normal course of events, Paul would likely have been run out of town. But being a prisoner of Rome, watched over constantly by his trusty palace guard, Paul was able to instead continue preaching all things concerning Jesus with confidence and freedom to all who came to visit him.
And who else was privy to all of this marvelous teaching and preaching? The Roman guards, of course! This was the praetorian guard, the elite group of soldiers charged with protecting the emperor himself. These men rubbed shoulders with the mightiest men of Roman Empire, and every 6 hours a different one was assigned to Paul. For two whole years! How many of these men were won over to Christ? How much did they influence their culture for the kingdom of God?
As Paul spoke so boldly and freely from his prison platform, others were given the courage to preach the gospel as well. I want to share a quote from Steven J. Lawson from Philippians For You:
“One man or woman lit up for God has the capacity to put steel into the backbone of countless believers who live, work and witness around them. This is the influence of one person when he or she speaks the word of God with courage.”
Inspiring, isn’t it?
Now on to the next bit:
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.
Apparently those on the outside who were preaching were doing so with mixed motives. Paul points out that some preached from good will, or with pure motives, while others were doing so out of ‘selfish ambition’. The wording here indicates that the latter were using the gospel to gain personal advantage. It was religious politics at its finest; these men were trying to gain a following while trashing Paul’s ministry in the process. Nothing new under the sun, is there?
But what Paul says next is what totally blew my mind.
18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.
In other words, Paul didn’t care if others were trashing him as long as the message about Jesus was being spread.
Let that sink in for a moment.
Paul, formerly a Pharisee of high standing in the Jewish community, educated by one of the finest teachers of the Law, zealous for his faith (both before and after his conversion), this man had so laid aside his ego that he totally didn’t care if others trashed his reputation. He didn’t care that these men gained followers for Christ as long as Christ was being preached. We don’t see a lick of defensiveness or envy in Paul, rather we see a man who rejoices that God’s message is being taught. The humility in this is incredibly convicting.
How would we do in Paul’s situation? How about simply in our own? How do we feel when other writers, teachers, musicians, homeschoolers, mothers, _______ (fill in the blank with your own area of influence); how do we feel when others seem to be doing better, even when we see their motives stink? When they have a bigger following, better behaved kids, a better marriage, bigger ministry?
I find this sobering because I’m all too often operating under crummy self-focused motives. So as I mused on this I began to pray. Lord, help me to lay aside my ego like Paul. I want to be like Paul…minus the whole prison gig…and maybe without the beatings and riots…and no shipwrecks, Lord…
Guess I’ve got a ways to go yet, eh? Strange, what freedom Paul seems to have, even in a Roman prison. Freedom from ego, from envy, from fear…what a beautiful example of true humility in ministry. I’d say that’s quite a lot to aspire to in this ‘boring’ little passage!
Grace and peace,
What this passage says about God/Jesus/Holy Spirit:
*God is at work even in the midst of our trials. (What man means for evil, God can use for His purposes.)
*God can use anyone, anywhere. (Paul in prison, preachers with wrong motives.)
Next week’s passage: Philippians 1:18b-30
Photo by Choat at Bigstock.com.