Grace to Be Bold
Topic: Expository Passage: Philippians 1:18b-21Christians must live with a singular focus on exalting Christ and with confidence that the Spirit will enable us to fulfill our purpose.
Read vv. 18–26
In this passage, Paul contemplates his coming trial before Caesar. After 2 years of waiting in Rome (not to mention his time in a Caesarean prison and then his time being transported to Rome), Paul is about to have his day in court. No matter who you are it had to be a little intimidating to anticipate this day.
When his day in court came, Paul would enter the magnificent imperial complex, accompanied by imperial guards. And then he would stand before his accusers who had travelled all the way from Jerusalem just to argue that Paul should be executed. He would also stand before a number of ranking Roman officials, and ultimately he would stand before the Roman emperor Nero.
Nero is infamous for his psychopathic cruelty, though he hadn’t quite fallen off his rocker yet, but the screws were coming loose. He had already executed his mother and several other officials whom he suspected of treason. Therefore, he wasn’t exactly a man of integrity that you could trust to do what was just.
Yet Paul would have to wait while the Jews slandered his name and tried to manipulate Nero into having him executed. And then Paul would be given the floor. He could finally look Nero in the eye and defend himself. And when he was done, Nero would either free Paul or sentence him to death. I don’t care who you are, that’s a lot of pressure.
And our text today reflects Paul’s thoughts as he prepared for his day in court. And Paul’s resolve to magnify the Lord at any cost is pretty incredible. But there is also a very human element to our text. Paul understood that his trial would be one of the most difficult experiences of his life. So this passage is very challenging, and yet there is also great grace in Paul’s testimony. I’d like to begin our study by focusing on Paul’s goal as he thought about his trial.
I. The Goal: We must boldly declare God’s glory (v. 20).
The Temptation to Shame: Any normal person in Paul’s position, would have 2 huge concerns. First, if you are standing before Nero being charged with sedition, you would naturally want to make sure he knew above all else that you were one of the good guys and that the gospel was not a threat to Rome. So it would be tempting to smooth the rough edges of the gospel.
But Paul knew that the gospel is offensive. It declares, for example, that there is one Lord and Savior and it’s not Caesar. So what do you do? Do you downplay some truth or even fudging the truth? If you want these guys to like you, you may have no other choice.
Of course a second natural concern, when you are facing the death penalty, is that you don’t want your head chopped off. So anyone would naturally want to make a defense that would convince Nero to let you go free.
Paul acknowledges these concerns in v. 20 when he says that he does not want to be “ashamed,” when he stands before Caesar. In other words, as Paul contemplated his trial, he didn’t want to be ashamed of what he believed or even deny what he what he believed.
However, it’s pretty clear that backing off from the truth was not an option. This is because Paul wasn’t ultimately focused on saving his life or looking respectable. Rather, notice again Paul’s singular focus as he anticipates his trial (v. 20).
The Passion for God’s Glory: It’s pretty clear that Paul had one goal for his defense. He wanted Christ to be “magnified in my body, whether by life or by death.” In other words, Paul wasn’t going to play the legal game that so many lawyers play today, where they are bending and twisting the truth in order to get what they want.
No, Paul had one simple goal. He wanted to clearly and boldly declare the truth of the gospel. He didn’t view this as a trial; so much as he viewed it as an opportunity to preach. He wanted Nero, his Jewish accusers, and every Roman official in that room to hear that Jesus is the Lord and that salvation is only available in Christ. The imperial hall would echo with the truth of the gospel and Christ would be magnified.
And notice that Paul leaves open the possibility that one of the ways he may end up magnifying Christ in his body is by sacrificing his life. If it were the Lord’s will, Paul would gladly declare the worthiness of Christ by dying for his great name.
Paul’s testimony is so challenging on several fronts. First and foremost, Paul reminds us that we are not on this earth to serve ourselves or to glorify ourselves. Life is not about making me look good. No, we are here to magnify the Lord, to let it be known that God is great and to declare all of his glorious attributes especially as they are revealed in the gospel.
My job is to make God big to everyone around me. We should be so challenged by Paul’s singular focus on magnifying Christ.
And Paul’s testimony also challenges us with the fact that very often glorifying the Lord means accepting the world’s rejection. Of course, it’s nice when people respect us for our faith. Sometimes we even tell ourselves that we can’t be a good witness unless the world respects us. We have to keep our influence at any cost.
So consider the potential impact of Paul’s trial. Christianity was pretty new, and these Roman officials had probably never heard the gospel. If they came away impressed with Paul, who knows. Maybe Christianity gains the same legal protection that Judaism enjoyed. Just think of all the good that could be done if Christianity gained that kind of protection. Wouldn’t it be worth it to fudge just a couple things to gain that protection?
Paul says absolutely not. The only way Paul could magnify the Lord was to accurately and boldly declare the truth. If that meant offending Nero and being put to death, than so be it. God’s glory mattered more than Paul’s life or even Roman approval of the gospel he preached.
And so as hard as it may be, we must embrace the offense of the cross. Of course, we aren’t looking to needlessly offend people. We want to be compelling and winsome. We want people to listen, because we want them to get saved. But no matter how loving and generous we may be, the gospel will offend, and we cannot allow the offense of the gospel to stop us from sharing it.
And so we must boldly and faithfully preach that Jesus saves. Notice again the testimony of Paul’s life. Paul’s expectation was that, “With all boldness, as always, so now Christ will be magnified in my body.” In other words, ever since Paul was converted on the Road to Damascus, his life was about the faithful and bold proclamation of the gospel. That’s what he had always done, and that’s what he expected to do when he stood before Caesar.
If it meant that Nero was pleased and let him go free, great!. If Nero was highly offended and had Paul executed, so be it. But nothing would stop Paul from boldly declaring the gospel.
Especially since we live in a safe nation with religious liberty, we desperately need to be impacted by Paul’s testimony. Many of you know the story of Jim Elliot. He only lived to be 28 years old, because in 1956 a secluded tribe in South America killed him, while he was trying to bring the gospel to them for the very first time.
It was a bold and courageous mission, and Elliot made the ultimate sacrifice, because he believed that the gospel matters. And God used the story of Elliot’s death and the death of the other 4 missionaries who also gave their lives to make a profound impact on the American church.
Part of what makes Jim Elliot such a powerful figure is that his death for the gospel reflected the consistent passion of his life up to that point. A while back, I came across the following quote by Jim Elliot challenging the American church, and it complements well Paul’s testimony about his courageous boldness in sharing the gospel.
Elliot said of the American church, “We are so utterly ordinary, so commonplace, while we profess to know a Power the Twentieth Century does not reckon with. But we are "harmless," and therefore unharmed. We are spiritual pacifists, non-militants, conscientious objectors in this battle-to-the-death with principalities and powers in high places. Meekness must be had for contact with men, but brass, outspoken boldness is required to take part in the comradeship of the Cross. We are 'sideliners'—coaching and criticizing the real wrestlers while content to sit by and leave the enemies of God unchallenged. The world cannot hate us, We are too much like its own. Oh that God would make us dangerous!”
There is a great need for “dangerous” Christians as Elliot said, who are far more concerned to make Christ known than to keep the peace and fit in. So I want to challenge you to become dangerously bold because you are passionate about the glory of God and the spread of the gospel.
Maybe you have been thinking about sharing the gospel with your neighbor or coworker for a very long time, but fear keeps holding you back. I want to urge you to make it happen. Or maybe everyone in the office knows you are a Christian, but you’ve always carefully avoided the offense of the gospel. Don’t be a jerk, but again love Christ and love your coworkers enough to confront them with their sin and with the fact that Christ alone saves.
Don’t be afraid to be dangerous. Let’s all pray that God would give us a heart like Paul, which resolves, “In nothing I shall be ashamed, but with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death.”
And if you have never received Christ as your Savior, I hope you will see that this message that Paul was willing to die to declare is the very message that you need to hear and believe above all else. Specifically, you need to understand that there is one God, and he is your creator. And you have violated his Law by repeatedly sinning against him.
But Jesus died on the cross to pay the penalty for sin. And the good news of the gospel is that Christ will save you from God’s wrath if you simply repent of your sin and place your faith in Christ. If you do that, you can be secure in the grace of God, and like Paul you can face life or death without fear, because your life is in Christ. If you’ve never received the gospel, I hope you will today. So in sum, v. 20 expresses tremendous boldness, but maybe it seems out of reach. “There is no way I could ever be that bold.” Well, notice in v. 19…
II. The Confidence: We can boldly declare Christ’s glory (v. 19).
When we read through vv. 20–26, we often assume that Paul was a superhuman machine. How could anyone face such a significant trial with such confidence and resolve? And how could any normal human being so coolly debate whether death or life is better? It’s impressive, but we aren’t sure how applicable Paul’s words are to us.
Therefore, it’s very important that we see that Paul’s confidence was not rooted in himself but in the same gospel grace that every true believer possesses. Therefore, if you are in Christ, you can stand in the grace of God just like Paul. In light of that, notice first…
Paul’s Confidence: It’s important to note that v. 18 is transitional. In vv. 12–17, Paul reflected on how God was using his imprisonment to advance the gospel. Therefore, he responds in v. 18 by saying, “Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice.” Then Paul’s perspective shifts from present joy to future joy. He adds, “Yes, and (I) will rejoice.” Paul is confident that he will have joy in the future, and he tell us why in vv. 19–26.
In particular he says in v. 19, “I rejoice...For I know that this will turn out for my deliverance.” We might think Paul is saying that he is sure he will be found “not guilty” at his trial. However, the text is clear that Paul is concerned about something much more significant than a “not guilty” verdict.
First, while Paul is pretty confident about how his trial will go, he’s not certain. He ends v. 20 by saying that he doesn’t know if he will live or die. But he has a very different confidence in v. 19. As well, the Greek word that is translated deliverance is sōtāria, or salvation. This word is almost exclusively in the NT in the spiritual realm.
And finally, v. 19a is an exact quote of Job 13:16 in the Septuagint. This is significant, because Job’s friends were certain that Job was suffering because God was judging him for some hidden sin. But Job is certain that he is innocent, and in v. 16 he declares with confidence that he will be saved or vindicated when he stands before God in the last day. Job knew that God saw his heart and that God knew he was innocent.
And Paul is expressing the same confidence. He doesn’t know for sure how the fickle Nero will rule, but he knows that someday he will stand before a much more significant judge, and among other things he will give an account of whether or not he was faithful during his trial before Caesar. And Paul is certain that in that day he will be delivered or saved or vindicated. God will approve of Paul’s defense, and God will be pleased. And this verdict will matter far more than Nero’s.
We ought to find so much comfort in that hope. Like Nero people are often unpredictable and fickle. And when you share the gospel or confront their sin, they may not always respond well. In fact at times they may get very angry and combative. Of course there are so many other contexts where people don’t treat us fairly or respond as they should to our words and actions.
So if you live your life obsessed with people’s approval, you probably won’t share the gospel very often, and are going to be disheartened a lot. But we don’t need to have any such fears with God. He perfectly sees your heart. He sees when you are striving to please him, and someday you can be sure that he will vindicate your efforts when you stand before him. Praise the Lord!
And as such, don’t live your life pressing for the approval of men. Live your life to please the Lord, knowing that he will vindicate you someday. And so Paul was certain that he would be vindicated before the Lord. But notice that his confidence was not ultimately in himself.
Paul’s Source of Confidence: Instead, Paul says he is confident that he will be delivered, “through your prayers and the supply of the Spirit.” This is a fascinating little statement. In particular, Paul believed that the prayers of the Philippians would play a vital role in his defense before Caesar.
He knew that they were praying for him, and he knew that in response to their prayers the Holy Spirit would come upon him as he stood before Caesar and enable him boldly articulate the truth and magnify the Lord.
I appreciate Gordon Fee’s comments on this verse. “He (Paul) simply does not think of Christian life as lived in isolation from others. He may be the one in prison and headed for trial; but the Philippians—and others—are inextricably bound together with him through the Spirit. Therefore, he assumes that their praying, and with that God’s gracious supply of the Spirit of his Son, will be the means God uses yet once more to bring glory to himself.”
That puts a whole different spin on praying for missionaries and other ministries. I remember as a kid oftentimes hearing a missionary say, “What we need more than anything is your prayers,” and I often doubted the sincerity of that statement. But it really is true. We perform a vital ministry of partnership when we pray for our missionaries.
And in this particular case, the Philippian prayers provided Paul with “the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ.” And this supply is the reason Paul was confident that he would be faithful at his trial and be vindicated before God. Paul’s confidence was not in himself and his courage. No he understood that he could not stand on his own, but by God’s grace he could do anything he needed to do.
The same is true for us. You can be bold and courageous. You can magnify the Lord and effectively share the gospel in the strength that God gives. So pray for the supply of the Spirit, and let’s pray that God would give this supply to each other, and to our missionaries and friends in ministry. And then let’s go share the gospel, trusting that the Spirit will give boldness and wisdom. And then finally notice in v. 21 the foundation of it all. The reason we pray, the reason we speak, and the reason we are willing to sacrifice everything is because…
II. Christ is my life (v. 21).
For today, I just want to zero on the first part of that for a minute. The phrase “for to me” indicates that this is a very personal confession or testimony of Paul. This verse reflects the heart of who Paul was. Specifically, Paul literally says, “For to me to be living—Christ.”
There’s not much to explain about that statement. Paul is saying as succinctly as possible that his life on earth was about one thing—Christ. Paul’s hope was in Christ, his strength was in Christ, his joy was in Christ, and his purpose was in Christ. Christ dominated everything about him, so Paul lived to fulfill the mission that Christ had given him.
It’s such a simple statement, and yet it is profoundly significant. And by God’s grace it should be true of everyone of us. I’m not here to get rich, to gain glory, to enjoy this pleasure or that pleasure. No Christ is my life, and everything else must turn on that hub.
One of the earliest church leaders to embrace Paul’s zeal was Ignatius of Antioch. He was the leader of a large congregation in Antioch where the Gentile church first became strong. Throughout his ministry he fought like Paul for a pure gospel that magnified the Lord. In particular, he resisted the pull of Jewish legalism on the one hand and Greek Gnosticism on the other. But of course, that put him in the crosshairs of both the Greek majority and legally protected Jews.
The details are not entirely clear to us but ultimately, Ignatius was arrested and sent to Rome to die. According to Irenaeus, another important early church father, Ignatius was brutally executed in Rome in 115. Most likely he was marched into the Colosseum, where according to Irenaeus, the Roman crowd was entertained as Ignatius was torn apart by wild animals. It had to be an awful way to die.
But before his death as Ignatius was being marched to Rome, he wrote 7 letters to various churches. In those letters, he plead with them to magnify Christ no matter the cost. And one of the letters he wrote was to the church in Rome where he was being taken to be executed. He didn’t ask them to plead for his life. Instead, he embraced the opportunity to magnify the Lord through death. In that letter he states,
“Bring on the fire, bring on the cross, bring on the hordes of wild animals! Let them wrench my bones out of socket and mangle my limbs and grind up my whole body! Bring on all the hideous tortures from the Devil! Just let me get to Christ. Nothing on this wide earth matters to me anymore…I am at the point where I would rather die for Jesus Christ than rule over the whole earth. He alone is the one I seek—the one who died for us! It is Jesus that I long for—the one who for our sake rose again from the dead!”
Like Ignatius and like Paul, may we say, “For to me, to live is Christ (I just want to magnify him), and to die is gain.”