In Chains For Christ
Key Verse 1:13
“As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ.”
Paul said many things in this letter to the Philippians— things we can take to heart. And we are looking at this letter section by section so that we might get the full effect of it and learn every detail that Paul chose to include in it. The last detail we looked at was Paul’s prayer for the Philippian believers, verses 9-11. It was a glorious prayer that we must adopt for ourselves as well as for the church. “And this is my prayer [for you]: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ— to the glory and praise of God.” After that, Paul begins to speak directly to the them. He begins by telling them something very important, probably very much on his heart and very much related to what was on their heart as well. How so? Well, when they heard that he was taken prisoner, they immediately sent him a letter with their pastor Epaphroditus to comfort him. Their letter probably said many things, but surely it also said something like this: “We’re very sorry that you have been taken prisoner brother Paul. We’re even more sorry that the gospel work you began is now surely at a standstill.” In the section that we will cover here today, Paul responds to their concern with something like this: “Not at all! Never!” The way he explains it to them is remarkable. It teaches us a lot about the man and his faith.
Read verse 12. “Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel.” First of all, let’s ask the question, “what had happened to him”? Paul had been arrested in Jerusalem for preaching the good news of the gospel taken to Rome in chains to be tried in Caesar’s court. (At 21:15-25:12) He had proclaimed the gospel to those who needed to hear the gospel because they were perishing in their sins. And now he was put in chains and dragged as a criminal cross the continent to be tried as a criminal in Rome. It was a tremendous hardship, an enormous suffering for an old man who did not deserve to be chained. But look at his attitude towards his imprisonment. “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel.” Who can say this in their situation! Who can say that what sufferings happen to them happen for good? Actually Paul can and he often does. Once he wrote to the Corinthians saying: “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.” (2 Cor. 1:8-9) In other words this happened for the good as well— that is, for the good of depending on God and not on ourselves.
This too was Paul’s attitude towards his imprisonment. The way that he viewed his suffering in imprisonment is different than the way most people, including most Christians view their own sufferings. Paul viewed his suffering with a Godly perspective. He did not view his imprisonment as tragic but as serving a Godly purpose, especially the purpose of advancing the gospel. His view of suffering was very similar to that of Christ’s own view of suffering. When Jesus thought about his own suffering he said: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” (John 12:23) He was talking about his upcoming suffering in crucifixion. Similarly, when Paul thought about his imprisonment, he also believed that it served God’s purpose. How then was it to serve God’s purpose? He said in verse 12: “Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel.”
According to Paul, his imprisonment served to advance the gospel. Let us think on this for a moment— perhaps we might even understand the Philippians’ initial concern. In fact, it was most unlikely that the gospel could ever advance through someone’s imprisonment. Usually imprisonment means the end of one’s career, the end of opportunities, the end of prospects, the end of hope. Usually an imprisonment brings on inner struggle, despair and ends in defeat. Satan is clever in using our hardships and sufferings to discourage us. Paul’s imprisonment was no different from any other man’s imprisonment. He wasn’t treated any differently. Yet Paul’s imprisonment served many a godly purposes the foremost of which was to advance the gospel. He lived in the sovereignty of God.
We should mention one more thing here about this verse before we go on. Look at verse 12 again. The word “advance” here is interesting. What does it mean to “advance” the gospel? Paul once said that the “gospel is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.” (Romans 1:16) Therefore, the gospel itself is a power unlike any other power known to man. It is a power capable of saving men’s souls. In that case, there is nothing more important in heaven or on earth than the work of advancing the gospel because men’s souls are the most precious treasures in existence. They are so precious that the Lord God has given his own life to provide a gospel that would save men’s souls. Paul deeply understood the power of the gospel to save souls. He understood the urgency of advancing the gospel. The gospel is like a force of nature, a power that in its advance can uproot in its path the enemy’s power and influence. We should not view the gospel as nice story or a moral guide. We should view the gospel as a power that if advanced can on one hand bring about deliverance and salvation to captives, and on the other hand, bring destruction of the enemy and his work.
Let’s Read verses 12-14. “Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.” Three things happened here because of Paul’s imprisonment. We talked about the first— that the gospel advanced. The second, as Paul tell us, is that the palace guard and everyone else came to understand that he was chained for no other crime than for Christ and the gospel. And the third result was that many Christians were emboldened to preach the gospel fearlessly. We’ve mentioned the first result, let’s talk about the second and third as well.
Listen to verse 13 again. “As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ.” Most prisoners who are incarcerated are usually guilty of their crimes, whether serious or not. But not the Apostle Paul. It was made absolutely clear that Paul was an innocent man, imprisoned for no charge to any crime. When investigation was made regarding the reason for Paul’s chains, it became repeatedly evident to all that Paul was being held prisoner for no reason other than for preaching the gospel of Jesus’ death and resurrection, for testifying to the gospel of God’s grace. What a glorious cause to be convicted of! Paul was convicted of preaching the gospel truth in a generation of lies. The days are coming declared the Lord where people will persecute you for preaching the truth. (Luke 21:12) People will turn away from the truth and will hide their faces behind lies because they will be afraid to testify to the truth. The days will come when the truth of God will become a rare thing and those who preach it will be outlawed. On that day, where will you stand when it becomes a crime to preach the gospel truth? Jesus once said: “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth.?” (Luke 18:8) Paul was imprisoned for preaching and defending the gospel truth. Let’s decide to simply preach and defend the gospel in our lifetime, at any cost.
Let us read verse 13 again. “As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ.” Let us consider these words carefully: “I am in chains for Christ.” The words “In Chains for Christ” perfectly define Paul’s life. Who can say this of their own lives! “I am in chains for Christ”. “I am suffering for Christ.” “I am constrained to suffer for Christ.” “I am constrained to humility and servantship for Christ.” “I am constrained to discipline for Christ.” “I yearn for freedom but I am willingly in bondage to family and job and a disciplined life for Christ.” “I am in chains for Christ.” What a beautiful confession Paul made to the Philippians. Paul was in chains for Christ. How often he could have blamed those who put him in chains for restricting his life and movements. How often he could have blamed the circumstances for these miserable chains. We cannot imagine how restrictive and humiliating it is to be dragged in chains from place to place. But Paul said “I am in chains for Christ.” He accepted those chains because he loved Christ who accepted him and who for Paul took up the cross willingly to bear Paul’s sins. Now Paul was wearing chains to bring the gospel to others so that they too might know Christ and have life. Indeed, “In chains for Christ” truly defined and described Paul’s life perfectly, his physical but also his spiritual situation as well. He was bound for Christ. He was bound in Christ and for Christ. I pray that you and I could also have this confession from our hearts as well, that “I am in chains for Christ”.
Paul tells us the third result of his imprisonment as well. Read verse 14. “Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.” The ESV version says these words: “And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.”
Somehow when the Christians heard about Paul’s imprisonment, something amazing happened. They were encouraged to boldly speak the word of God. They became confident. They were confident to preach the gospel whatever the cost— confident to trust God whatever the consequences— confident to serve his purpose even if it meant risking imprisonment— confident to suffer joyfully without the sting of fear. They had faith. But what they needed was confidence. They had no confidence to do anything. They needed some encouragement to gain some confidence. And surprisingly Paul’s imprisonment did wonders for them. So at first when Paul was taken prisoner they completely lost heart and trembled. But then they observed Paul very closely to see his reaction. When they saw his clear attitude and high spirit— that he was joyful and undaunted— they took heart. They were greatly encouraged and were filled with confidence. When confidence filled their hearts, they were afraid no more.
I think we must recognize here how important one person’s attitude and confidence is in spurring others to do what God would have them do. How important was Paul’s own attitude towards his own suffering to encourage these Christians to speak the word of God more courageously and without fear. It gave them the confidence to proclaim the gospel. And the gospel was proclaimed as a result of his imprisonment.
Read verses 15-18. “It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. (16) The latter do so in love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. (17) The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. (18) But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. (18b) Yes, and I will continue to rejoice.”
Paul begins this section with the words: “It is true”. He means to say that it’s a fact of life as we live in this sinful world that we cannot escape from some of the painful things that happen among Christians, who should otherwise be loving brothers and sisters according to the Lord’s command, but because of the devil’s work fall into his trap when they give in to their sinful nature. In these verses Paul mentions what also happened as a result of his imprisonment. According to verses 15-17 there were two kinds of Christians who used Paul’s imprisonment as a springboard to preach the gospel. In verse 12, you remember he said that his imprisonment served to advance the gospel. Of course Paul himself advanced the gospel while he was in chains. He preached it to the guards and to everyone else around. But his imprisonment also caused the gospel to advance through others as well. However, it wasn’t only by one kind of Christian that the gospel advanced. Paul mentions two kinds of Christians in these verses.
Read verse 15. “It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill.” Before we speak about the two kinds of Christians whom Paul is describing here, I just want to comment on the words “envy and rivalry” that appear here in this verse. There is nothing that hurts the church of our Lord Jesus more than these two things— envy and rivalry. Ordinarily to a new covert— trust me when I say that— it is appalling to him or her that there should be anything in the fellowship of Christ Jesus such as envy or rivalry among the children of the Lord. But as we mature in the Lord we see clearly how these two messengers of Satan working through our sinful nature have eaten up at the very core of the church and chew it up to bits and pieces.
As we said, there were the two kinds of Christians who preached the gospel as a result of Paul’s imprisonment. In verse 15 and 17 we see that there was the kind that preached the gospel out of envy and rivalry, not in sincerity of heart— but in selfish ambition. These preached the gospel with the intent of causing Paul trouble while he was in prison. They were vindictive towards Paul, slanderous of him, abusive towards him. They couldn’t say a kind word about him but thought that he deserved the imprisonment he got. Maybe Paul had once rebuked them or he might not have honored them enough in the congregation. Maybe they held a grudge against him because he had done something to them they had considered to be wrong. Maybe he didn’t recognize their authority and gave them some godly advice through the holy spirit which they didn’t appreciate. We don’t know why they were so antagonistic towards Paul. We know they were Christians because they were preaching the gospel. But they were jealous and envious of Paul. Whatever the reason for their rivalry with him, they were insincere in their service of the gospel. When they preached the gospel their hope was to smear the name of Paul and raise more converts than he did.
But here’s the other kind of Christian mentioned here in these verses. Look at verse 15b-16. “But others out of goodwill. The latter do so in love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel.” Paul says these words here regarding these other Christians. “Out of good will.” “Do so in love” or “Out of love”. Here we have the good will Christian, and the loving Christian. We can also add the selfless or the self sacrificing Christian here as well— if we consider that the Christian from the other group served the gospel out of selfish ambition. We can also add to the loving Christian the sincere Christian considering that the other was insincere. These were the Christians of Paul’s day who preached the gospel knowing that Paul was put in chains for the defense of the gospel. They had to ill will towards him. They rather had good will towards him. And they loved him.
I thought about these two words “Good will” towards Paul and “in love” and I realized how different this group was from the other group of Christians. Actually I realized how great the good will and loving Christian is in the sight of God. If you think about it, consider how hard it is not to feel some jealousy or envy towards A man of God like Paul. Think how often we might look with longing toward a gift someone else might have that we don’t have— a strength of character— an ability to communicate for example— a certain insight into the word of God— a powerful spirit— and such. I can understand how some might be envious of Paul. I can understand how some might have some rivalry with him if his ministry is exceedingly successful and theirs is barely off the ground when they had poured their lives into it. But that is no reason for neither envy nor rivalry with Christians. John the Baptist was one of the greatest men who ever lived but in comparison with Jesus, he was as nothing. When he thought of his calling in comparison with that of the Lord Jesus, he said: “A man can only receive what is given him from heaven.” He was not envious of the Lord. Nor did he rival his work. Rather he submitted to God’s sovereignty.
The secret to having a spirit of Goodwill towards our gifted brother or sister rather than a spirit of envy or jealousy towards them is this: Submit to God’s sovereignty and be content to be the member of the body that God made you to be— if an eye then be an eye— if an ear then be an ear— if a finger then be a finger. This is God’s wisdom that we might have goodwill towards all members of the body rather than harboring ill will and envy of one member towards another. The other secret these Christians could have goodwill towards Paul rather than rivalry with him was love. They genuinely loved the Lord and they loved him as well. Paul tells us that they do so in love. They know that Paul is in prison not for something he had done, but for the defense of the gospel. Those who love the gospel also love and uphold those who preach the gospel. Paul was a fortunate man to have such Christians who were preaching the gospel out of good will towards him.
Read verse 18. “But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.” This then is Paul’s response to those who have preached the gospel out of contempt for him and those who have preached it out of love. This then is his response regarding what happened as a result to his imprisonment. First of all Paul trusted that God is sovereign. “What does it matter” does not mean “I don’t care ”. “What does it matter” means God is alive and sovereign, and God will do what God will do in his sovereign wisdom and will. “The thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true”, doesn’t mean that men’s motives are not important. They are and God will judge men’s motives as he sees fit. But in the case of the gospel, as long as the gospel is being preached, glory be to God. That is what’s important. That is what we need glory in. That is what we need be focused on. Paul could turn on those who were slandering him and defend himself, or he could attack those who were insincere in their motives of preaching, etc., But then he considered that “unimportant”. The important thing is not to challenge and prosecute those who break moral laws and religious traditions, but to bring the actual gospel to the nations. Paul is saying that’s what’s important. Let us do that. Let’s focus on that. Let us pray for that. There is an important thing. And it is that Christ be preached. And that’s what ought to make us rejoice. So let’s rejoice at that. Let’s not be petty and argue over silly things, but let’s work together to preach Christ to the world. Amen.