Our text for today comes from Philippians 1:12-18. These are the words of God:
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.
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. 18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice (ESV)
SUMMARY OF THE TEXT
What would happen to the gospel mission now that Paul’s imprisoned? Wouldn’t the progress of the gospel come screeching to a halt? “No”, says Paul. On the contrary, the adversity itself has ushered the gospel, which had been obscure and unknown, into the imperial guard of Rome. (v. 12, 13) and even into Nero’s own household. (cf. 4:22)
Though Paul has been somewhat sidelined, the preachers of Rome are emboldened. (v. 14) As a side note: Rome was to be Paul’s springboard to Spain. He wrote the church ~A.D. 56 to prepare them for his visit. This means the gospel was already outrunning Paul to the ends of the earth. (Acts 1:8)
Who are those preaching Christ from envy and rivalry? The only thing we know about them is they are competitive preachers. They are preaching Christ for themselves. Paul is preaching Christ for Christ. This is for the “defense of the gospel” (v. 15, 16) These envious preachers flaunt their ability to preach unfettered as a way to “add pressure to my chains.” (v. 17)
Paul had every reason to throw a pity party. His enemies had him tossed into prison, and many of his supposed allies were gloating. Instead, Paul fixes his focus on what brings him joy: he saw the kingdom of Christ gaining ground. (v. 18)
HIGH MILEAGE MINISTRY
It’s not the years. It’s the mileage. “What has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel.” (v. 12) So, what happened to Paul? In just over a decade, Paul had completed three missionary journeys, wrote his letter to the Galatians, Thessalonians, Corinthians, Romans, (and possibly) Philemon, Colossians, & Ephesians. Churches were planted in Asia Minor & Macedonia. He’d been stoned at Lystra, imprisoned in Philippi, & fled Thessalonica by night. And 4 of those years he was in jail or under house arrest. Luke, the author of Acts, tells us that Felix, Festus, and Argippa kept Paul imprisoned because the only thing they loved more than being popular with their Jewish constituents was money and they essentially held Paul as a hostage. (Acts 21:7-26:32) The cherry on top is that he did it all with a “thorn in the flesh.” (2 Corinthians 12) In other words, much had happened to Paul, and he saw all of it as advancing the gospel.
In God’s sovereign calculations, the answer to the question, “How do we spread the gospel to pagans & encourage believers to boldness at the same time,” was, “Obviously, Paul has to go to prison.” That’s why you should not read these verses as Paul putting a positive spin on a bad situation. (2:17; 3:10-11) If you view your circumstances through the lens of your self-made dreams nothing makes sense. But viewed through the lens of Christ and his mission, even setbacks become opportunities for advancement.
THE BLOOD OF THE MARTYRS IS SEED
Putting a Christian in prison, or burning one at the stake, is like pouring rainwater on a field of missionaries. Our suffering for the sake of Christ is never wasted.
In the 14th century, Roman Catholic law forbade the translation of Scripture into the common tongue. It was a crime punishable by death. And it was exactly the thing John Wycliffe, a professor at Oxford University was convinced must be done. Wycliffe believed that the Scriptures alone are our highest authority for doctrine, and therefore every Christian ought to own their own copy of the Bible. Wycliffe and a team of scholars translated the Scriptures into English and began reproducing copies of the Bible by hand. After his death, the Catholic church condemned him as a heretic, exhumed his bones, burned them to ashes, and drowned them in the river. But as Foxe’s book of Martyrs tells us:
“though they dug up his body, burnt his bones, and drowned his ashes, yet the Word of God and the truth of his doctrine, with the fruit and success thereof, they could not burn; which yet to this day…doth remain.” Tertullian was right: the blood of the is seed.
It’s important to remember, at this point, that there’s a difference between suffering for Christ and suffering for being an incorrigible jerk. We’re blessed when we’re reviled, and this is crucial, falsely & on Christ’s account. (Matt. 5:11) We’re also to live upright and quiet lives. (1 Thess. 4:11) Nevertheless when the time comes to stand for Christ as the Apostles did, we too ought to rejoice that we’re counted worthy to suffer for the name. (Acts 5:41)
WHETHER IN PRETENSE OR IN TRUTH
Whether done in pretense or truth, Paul took true joy in the true gospel being preached. God is holy. Man is sinful. Christ is the redeemer. Look to Christ and live. When that gospel is heralded, and the lost are found, the church ought not ask, “But what do they believe about the Second Coming?” There is more joy in heaven over one sinner repenting than 99 understanding the end times.
The mission of the “C”hurch is to preach the gospel to every creature and teach the nations to obey Christ. We hasten the day of his return as we hasten to the ends of the earth. And in this race, we aren’t competing against other churches or one another. ELABORATE
Our opponents are the world, the flesh, and the devil. Paul constantly raised money for churches other than the ones he planted. (1 Cor. 16:1-4) He sent out his best workers to lead other flocks. (Tychicus, Eph. 6:21; Tychicus & Onesimus, Col. 4:7-8; Timothy, 1/2 Timothy; Titus, Titus; Apollos, 1 Cor. 16:12) We are not here to build a great church for ourselves, but to be a great church for the sake of Lake Wylie & the world. We praise God when we hear of converts in churches down the street and more baptisms across town.
We want all people to know of the mercy of forgiveness—yes and even the Lordship of Christ. His rule, his reign, over every heart.