Lift Up the Gospel
Explore the Bible Series
March 13, 2011
Lesson Passage: Philippians 1:12-26
The final chapter of the Acts of the Apostles recounts Paul’s imprisonment, in Rome. If church tradition is correct, this incarceration produced four epistles in the New Testament: Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon. Luke, in Acts, chronicles Paul’s arduous voyage to Rome, a journey punctuated by storms, shipwreck, and delays. It seems that Dr. Luke accompanied the apostle on the journey (note the personal pronoun “we” throughout the Acts narrative), and Timothy must have joined Paul in Rome (See salutation of Philippians). The authorities held Paul in house arrest, in rented quarters, accompanied by a guard. These circumstances lasted for two years. Apparently, the Philippian church provided funds, brought to Paul by Epaphroditus, to defray the apostle’s living expenses.
Naturally, the Philippians feared for Paul’s well-being, and, as a function of their concern, they apparently wondered if Paul’s detention had stifled the work of the kingdom. Our lesson text dispels any doubts concerning the apostle’s continued bold proclamation of the gospel, even during this time of hardship; in fact, Paul had a “captive” audience in the soldiers who guarded him, and he took advantage of every opportunity. As a result, the gospel spread, even among the Roman elite guard.
Several important principles stand out in our lesson passage.
1. Paul utilized every opportunity to fulfill his mission as an apostle. He refused to allow his circumstances to depress him or deter his work.
2. No one, not even battle-hardened imperial soldiers, is beyond the life-changing power of the gospel.
3. God can use hardship to advance his kingdom. Paul rejoiced that his internment actually opened an opportunity to preach. Moreover, the apostle’s example emboldened other Christians to give witness to the Lord Jesus.
4. Paul reached a point of holy indifference to his own impending death. While he remained confident that the imperial courts would find him innocent, Paul was at peace about the possibility of death. The prospect of going to be with the Lord attracted and encouraged Paul, even though he wanted to continue his gospel labors. He found himself in a “win/win” situation. Whatever happened, he wanted to honor Christ.
5. God’s servants are never immune to opposition to their kingdom labors. Paul acknowledged that some preachers carried out their work with envy and rivalry, perhaps even rejoicing in the apostle’s hardship; nevertheless, he delighted that, whatever the motive, Christ was proclaimed among the Romans.
6. Suffering, especially in the cause of Christ, deepens one’s appreciation for fellow laborers in the gospel. Not only did Paul express his gratitude for his friends in Philippi, but he took deeper pleasure in the work of other preachers.
I. The Grounds of Paul’s Joy (vv. 12-18)
A. The advance of the gospel (vv. 12-14): Despite the hardships of incarceration, the gospel advanced among two groups. “Advance” translates a word that means “to cut before”, and it denotes the clearing of a pathway. Paul saw his labors a pioneering work, blazing new paths for the gospel.
1. Jews in Rome (See Acts 28:11f): Paul used his time-tested method of evangelism, preach the gospel first to the Jews; then, turn attention to a Gentile audience. Luke tells us that many Jews visited Paul, and some of them came to faith in Christ.
2. The imperial guard (See Philippians 1: 13): Again, the guards must have heard Paul’s witness, and the gospel spread, not only among the soldiers, but also to Nero’s household (See 4:22). The success of the gospel encouraged fellow believers to expand their witness in the imperial city, without fear or restraint.
B. Preachers with unworthy motives (vv. 15-18): Paul distinguished between two kinds of preachers in Rome, those who spoke from love and those who, motivated by envy and rivalry, preached to annoy and embarrass the apostle. Paul did not question the doctrine of these unworthy men—apparently they proclaimed a sound gospel. He took exception with their motives, not their message.
II. Paul’s Attitude Toward Life and Death (vv. 19-26): Though Paul remained confident of his eventual release from prison, he also understood his precarious circumstances—a healthy mixture of hopefulness and realism.
A. Encouragement in times of hardship (v. 19)
1. “your prayers”: He treasured the intercessions of his friends in Philippi. Difficult circumstances had not stifled Paul’s confidence in prayer.
2. “the help of the Holy Spirit”: Ultimately, of course, the apostle’s confidence rested, not in the prayers of the saints, but in the power of the Holy Spirit. “Salvation” (translated “deliverance” in ESV) probably refers to Paul’s expectation of vindication from the malicious accusations of his opponents, accusations that led to his incarceration.
B. Paul’s desire to honor Christ (vv. 20-26): Like all human beings, Paul stood at the threshold of eternity, still alive, but ever mindful of the frailty of life. Whether he lived or died, he wanted to glorify Christ, and he realized, in life or death, the Lord’s honor was at stake. Of course, Christ has intrinsic glory, but Paul’s concern centered on honoring the gospel among men. He hoped to remain faithful and courageous in his ordeal, whether he lived or died.
1. “if I live”: Paul believed he would survive his imprisonment, and, if he lived, he anticipated continued fruitfulness in Kingdom labors.
2. “to depart and be with the Lord”: This is how Paul saw death, to be with the Lord, and he saw this as the best option. Nevertheless, he remained certain he would live to renew relationships with his friends in Philippi.