Our Pain and the Progress of the Gospel
Topic: Expository Passage: Philippians 1:12–18a
As a pastor I try to reflect often on how we are doing as a church. What is God doing, and how is he blessing? But also where we are dragging and where we need to grow? One area where I think we have dragged a bit in the last few months is evangelism. Last year, our theme was about evangelism, and we got to see a number of people saved and baptized. God really blessed.
But we haven’t seen as much fruit this year. It’s true that salvation is in the Lord’s hands, but we should long to see people saved and baptized. We should plead with the Lord to save souls, and we should share the gospel like people who believe that Jesus saves and that he can transform any life. So I’ve been praying that God would give me and give all of us a greater passion for evangelism and that God would save souls in Apple Valley.
So I’m thankful that over the next couple of Sundays we get to study a passage where Paul reflects on his passion for evangelism. And what is so impactful about Paul’s testimony is that he doesn’t just give a token nod to evangelism. No, Paul was making great sacrifices to make Christ known. But he did so gladly, because the gospel matters. Notice Paul’s singular focus in Philippians 1:12–18a.
Paul was passionate about the spread of the gospel, and the basic take-away is clear. The progress of the gospel matters more than my comfort. Paul makes this point with 2 Greek sentences. The principle in the first sentence (vv. 12–14) is that…
I. God often uses our weakness to advance the gospel (vv. 12–14).
That’s not how we like it is it? We want God to work, and we also want to look good and feel good in the process. But that’s not how it usually is. God often does his greatest work through bringing us low. This is exactly what God did through Paul. Notice in v. 12 that…
God used Paul’s imprisonment to advance the gospel (v. 12). Paul was the ultimate go-getter, but by the time he wrote Philippians he had been stuck in prison for quite a while. Acts 28:30 says that Paul was under house arrest for at least 2 years waiting for his court date with Caesar.
During that time Paul lived as Roman prisoner, accused of sedition against Caesar. Naturally, it would have been miserable, humiliating, and very frustrating for someone like Paul who wanted to be out meeting people, sharing the gospel, and visiting churches.
And you would think that it would have squelched Paul’s influence. That’s certainly what the Jews who originally had him arrested thought would happen, and I’m sure that’s what the Romans expected too. They locked up people who were causing social unrest to stop their influence.
But Paul rejoices because his chains had the opposite effect! That’s the point when Paul says his chains “have actually turned out” for the progress of the gospel. God was doing great things that defied normal expectations. And there was nothing the Romans or the Jews could do to stop God’s work.
Specifically, they could not stop “the furtherance (or progress) of the gospel.” There are a lot of things that we don’t know about the future. We don’t know if life will be easy or hard, if we will be healthy or weak. We don’t know what will happen with our culture and government. But we know that Christ will save souls, he will build his church, and neither the gates of hell nor the evil purposes of men will prevail against it.
This promise should inspire us to go share the gospel. Sometimes we look at certain people, and we think they will never get saved, so we just move along. Or we are crippled by the feeling that they will only get saved if we have the perfect sales pitch, or they see us as strong, smart, and hip.
But it’s not about us. God opens blind eyes, and God saves souls. So walk in his grace, trust in his power to save. Then just walk across the street or across the room and just start speaking. I think we will be amazed at what God does. Then Paul notes 2 ways God had worked through his weakness.
God magnified the power of the gospel (v. 13). Paul reflects on a pretty unique opportunity. The “palace (or praetorian) guard” was Caesar’s bodyguard and his most loyal soldiers. In fact, they were the only armed soldiers allowed in Rome. They were the elite of the elite.
Among other things they were responsible to guard imperial prisoners, so they were responsible for Paul. Most likely they would rotate through 4-6 hour shifts watching Paul. And you can imagine that during those shifts Paul wasn’t the one who felt like a prisoner. Paul eagerly shared the gospel with each soldier who was assigned to him.
And God was doing great things among the guards. Paul says, “It has become evident to the whole palace guard…that my chains are in Christ.” This is incredible considering the fact that the Jews accused Paul of encouraging social unrest and rebellion against Rome. Paul was awaiting trial for sedition. That’s a big deal, and to Praetorian soldiers, who had devoted their lives to defending Rome, they assumed Paul was the enemy.
But when they started visiting with him, they found something very different. Paul wasn’t some arrogant cult leader looking to make a name for himself and to destroy their king. No they were impressed with a man who was wholly devoted to Christ, and who loved people. And he didn’t whine about his conditions like most prisoners. Instead, he rejoiced that he was “counted worthy to suffer shame for His name” (Acts 5:41).
And in particular, when Paul says it was evident “that my chains are in Christ,” he means that it was evident to the guards that Paul’s suffering was rooted in a deep commitment to Christ and that it was creating a unique fellowship with Christ. Notice Paul’s passion in 3:10. Paul was experiencing “the fellowship of his suffering.” We can assume that it was drawing him into deeper fellowship with the Savior. He had a compelling joy, peace, and a grace about him that was probably very different from most prisoners.
And that grace was having a profound impact on potentially thousands of elite soldiers. Soldier after solder walked away from Paul amazed by his testimony. And this impact was spreading among the guard.
And it wasn’t just affecting them. Paul says his testimony had affected “all the rest,” probably referring to the other imperial employees who were around the prison and justice system. They all saw the grace of God in Paul, and God was saving many people through Paul’s weakness and suffering.
What a testimony! I want to challenge us to embrace the joy of participating in Christ’s suffering. So often we are terrified by the idea of suffering for the gospel. We are so self-centered and temporally focused that we would never dream of taking the sort of bold, open stand for Christ that would inspire persecution.
So just ponder Paul’s testimony. “My chains are in Christ.” There was only one master in Paul’s life, and it wasn’t Paul. Therefore, Paul had to preach. He said in 1 Corinthians 9:16, “Woe is me if I do not preach the gospel!” The same is true for all Christians. Christ is my Lord, and I must do his will. I must share his gospel and minister his Word no matter the cost.
But that’s not something to lament; we should embrace it, because the fellowship of Christ’s suffering produces a unique knowledge of Christ and fellowship with him. That doesn’t mean we go looking for suffering. But when ministry brings suffering, we shouldn’t despair. Rather we should embrace the precious communion with our Lord that suffering brings.
So Christian, make sure that your chains are in Christ and that your joy is in Christ and then boldly declare his glory anticipating all that Christ will accomplish.
And maybe there is someone here who has always been hesitant to receive Christ as Savior, because you fear what Christ will require. You want the freedom to do you own thing. I would just urge you to see Paul’s joy in the darkest of circumstances and recognize that only Christ offers true peace, joy, and contentment. Following Christ is costly, but he is worth it. We’d love to talk with you today about how you can know him, and know that your sins are forgiven. Then v. 14 describes a 2nd way God worked through Paul’s chains.
God emboldened the church (v. 14). This verse is pretty incredible. Again, the Romans and Jews assumed that they could stop Paul’s influence by throwing him in prison. But Paul rejoices that his imprisonment had the opposite affect. God used it to awaken an army of evangelists among the Roman Christians.
Apparently when Paul reached Rome, the church had grown evangelistically dull. Maybe they were too busy with the affairs of life, or maybe they were intimidated by the threat of persecution. But then the Romans brought Paul into town, and Christians began visiting with him. Just like the guards, they saw that Paul’s “chains are in Christ,” and God inspired
God used Paul’s testimony to produce confidence and boldness in them. And the Roman church got busy preaching Christ. People were hearing the gospel, and many were getting saved. There was revival in Rome! And so by locking up one preacher, Rome inspired scores of people to do far more than one man could ever accomplish.
It’s a reminder to us that there is no power on earth below or in heaven above that can stop the gospel when God is determined to move it forward. Therefore, we should be inspired to trust the Lord and to “bold(ly) speak the word without fear.”
And then as much as it is contrary to our nature, we should ask God to give us opportunities like Paul to inspire others through our weakness and suffering. I’m not saying that we should desire pain, but we should count it a privilege when God calls us to glorify his name by declaring that he is worthy of every sacrifice. How should pray that God would give us that kind of zeal for him and for his Word. So in sum, vv. 12–14 teach us that God often uses our weakness to advance the gospel. Then notice in vv. 15–18 a second principle regarding the progress of the gospel.
II. We should value the advance of the gospel over personal interest (vv. 15–18).
Notice that this sentence builds directly off v. 14. In v. 14 Paul rejoiced that God used his testimony to inspire many people to preach the gospel. However, Paul acknowledges that the many evangelists didn’t all have the same motives. Paul highlights 2 very different motivations.
First, some were motivated by love and faith. Verse 15 says that some preached “from goodwill.” And then v. 17 (or v. 16 in many translations) expands on this (read). The end of that verse is very interesting. To the Romans and the Jews, Paul’s trial was a criminal affair. It was about determining the guilt or innocence of one man.
But the Christians understand that God was doing something far greater. God had allowed Paul to be arrested and brought to Rome so that Paul could publically defend (the Greek word is apologia, from which we get apologetics) the gospel before Caesar. As Paul will say later on, whether he lived or died was fairly insignificant in comparison to making Christ known. And the Christians who had eyes of faith saw God’s sovereign and eternal purpose at work.
And as well, Paul says that they loved Paul and they sincerely wanted to contribute to the mission. So Paul rejoiced over both their motives and their preaching. But that’s not the main focus of the sentence. Rather, Paul especially wants to address the 2nd
Second, some were motivated by selfish interest. Paul says in v. 15 that these people were motivated by “envy and strife.” In other words, they wanted to hurt Paul and drive a wedge between Christians. That’s not good!
And then notice what Paul adds in v. 16 (or v. 17, depending on your translation). These people were looking to advance themselves, not Christ at Paul’s expense. Again, it’s pretty ugly. And the natural question is who are these people and why do they have such evil desires?
First, it’s important to emphasize that they weren’t false teachers. In v. 14 Paul calls everyone who was out preaching brethren. In 15 he says that they were preaching Christ, and in v. 18 he says again that he rejoiced that they were preaching Christ.
That’s very different from how Paul responded to those who preached a false gospel. For example, notice in 3:17–19 how Paul describes false teachers. Time after time, Paul was clear that he had no toleration for or joy in apostate preaching.
Therefore, the fact that he rejoiced in the ministry of the people he mentions in chapter 1 implies that they were true believers preaching the true gospel.
But of course that still leaves us wondering why they were so jealous of Paul? Maybe they had some doctrinal quirks that didn’t rise to the level of heresy. Maybe they were the Jewish Christians Paul confronted in Romans 14–15. They believed the gospel, but they insisted on obedience to the Law.
Or maybe it had nothing to do with doctrine at all. They were just proud men, who didn’t like Paul coming into town and rivaling their influence and power. We can’t know for certain, but regardless, their bitterness toward Paul inspired them to preach the gospel.
And remarkably God was working in spite of their evil desires to save souls. It’s another reminder that God often works in spite of us, not because of us. He can even use a bunch of bitter, petty, arrogant men to spread the gospel. Praise God! And then understand that if God could use these guys, he can certainly use you. You may not be well educated or well spoken, and you may have a lot of scars in your past, but God is not limited by you. So preach the gospel trusting in the Lord to work.
It’s also a reminder that success does not always indicate God’s approval. We live in a culture that is addicted to success, and Christians are often just as bad. So if someone has a huge church, they’re leading lots of people to Christ, and they are selling lots of books, God must approve, even if there are obvious problems with their methods or demeanor.
But here is a clear example of the fact that success is not always indicative of godliness or God’s approval. We need to make sure that we don’t get caught up in the celebrity culture of our day but that instead we do God’s work, God’s way, because we love him and we love people. So 2 very different motives were driving the preachers in Rome, but notice in 18 there is only one goal and one rightful response to that goal.
One Goal: Christ is preached. Paul is very clear that one thing mattered above everything else—the proclamation of Christ in the gospel. As a result, Paul really didn’t care if he was recognized or not. He didn’t care if he had influence or someone else did. No what mattered what the Christ was preached and the souls were saved. And when that happened, no matter what else took place, there was only one rightful response.
One Response: Paul’s example is so powerful, because it hurts when people unfairly prosper at our expense. And it happens a lot, even among churches and ministries. There are lots of churches out there that have been built on slander, lies, and betrayal. There are lots of people who have gained a following in the blogosphere, on twitter, etc., by freely ripping on others.
It hurts when you are the subject of slander. And sadly many people lash out with anger and vengeance to defend their name. But Paul only cared about one name—the name of Christ. As a result, he didn’t sink to the level of his rivals; instead, he rejoiced in the preaching of the gospel, because the name of Christ mattered infinitely more than the name of Paul.
That’s not to say that these people’s rivalry was okay. Paul condemns their selfish ambition. It’s also not to say that we should never defend our name. Paul frequently defended himself when his ministry and testimony were at stake.
But it was never about Paul; it was always about Christ, and this framed how Paul responded. He understood in the words of Proverbs 26:4–5, that there is a time when you “Do not answer a foolaccording to his folly, lest you also be like him.” It’s better to bite your lip than to sink to the level of a fool. And there are other times when you must “Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.” Sometimes you have to confront for the good of the fool and those listening to him.
But regardless, it’s never about me. It’s about love and edification. And especially in our text, it’s fundamentally about the spread of the gospel.
Friends, the advance of the Great Commission is so important. You are not on this earth to live it up and make a name for yourself. You are here to glorify the Lord and to make his name known. We have to see that, and we have to wrestle with what that means for how we live our lives. Is evangelism a first priority in your life? Do you have a vision for the lost? Are you proactively seeking opportunities to evangelize? Or can you go days and weeks at a time without ever considering Christ’s final command to make disciples? We must share Chris
And then we must make sure that this mission binds us together as a church. Paul could put up with personal attacks, as painful as they must have been, because one thing mattered. Christ must be preached. And we need to be the same way (v. 27). There are lots of different kinds of people in this room. We have different interests and passions, different backgrounds, and different convictions.
But no matter how well you fit in or don’t with the people around you, we ought to enjoy a deep fellowship and unity, because we are bound by the fact that we are “striving together for the faith of the gospel.” When you think about the church and all of life, make sure that the main thing stays the main thing. It’s about the gospel and the glory of God. If we keep that focus, we can overcome a lot of differences, and God can use us to do great things.
Again, the simple message of this text is, “The progress of the gospel matters more than my comfort.” Let’s all see that Christ has called us to a task of far more significance than any fickle pursuit of this world. It matters, and so by God’s grace commit to give all that you have so that Christ may be preached.