Lesson 3: Part 1 of 2 (series: Lessons on Philippians)
by John Lowe
Lesson # 3
Title: Imprisonment Created Opportunities to Spread the Gospel
Text: (Philippians 1:12-14)
Scripture: (Philippians 1:12-14, NIV)
12 Now I want you to know, brothers and sistersa, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel.
13 As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guardb and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ.
14 And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.
a 12 The Greek word for brothers and sisters (adelphoi) refers here to believers, both men and women, as part of God’s family; also in verse 14; and in 3:1, 13, 17; 4:1, 8, 21.
b 13 or whole palace
The apostle faced opposition from those outside the church and misrepresentation from some within. But this did not dissuade or distract him from fulfilling God’s call. Through it all, Christ was being preached, which brought him great delight. So his bonds, instead of hindering his outreach, resulted in a greater spreading of the gospel of Christ. Paul’s friends back in Philippi were apparently quite concerned about him, thinking he was discouraged, and that God’s plan had gone awry. Not so, the apostle responded.
First and foremost, Paul wants to help the Philippians understand that his condition will not hurt the mission of the gospel, but benefit it. While it may seem that his physical condition and the possibility of his execution, would be the most pressing concern, Paul focuses first on what is important to him; the gospel of Jesus Christ. The good news of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and its proclamation was the central fixture on which Paul hung all his hopes and to which he devoted his life.
The news of Paul’s imprisonment was dispatched to all churches in Greece, Macedonia, Asia Minor, Syria, and Judea. A great many people who previously had doubted his sincerity, now believed that he was a true servant of Jesus Christ.
12 NOW I WANT YOU TO KNOW, BROTHERS AND SISTERS, THAT WHAT HAS HAPPENEDb TO ME HAS ACTUALLY SERVED TO ADVANCEa THE GOSPEL.
The Philippian church had heard he was in prison and were distressed by the news. Were the physical needs of their beloved apostle being met? Would he survive this encounter with the law? The journey of Epaphroditus to visit Paul and the gifts he brought were probably motivated by these concerns. The Philippians wanted to alleviate Paul’s suffering and to learn how he was faring. Paul knows this, and so the first line of the letter’s body breaks the surprising news “that what has happenedb to me has actually served to advancea the gospel.” Such an unusual statement demands an explanation and Paul provides it in verses 13-14.
“Now I want you to know”: What the Philippians need from Paul is not simply a news report on how he is doing. When a Christian minister, a missionary, a preacher of the gospel is arrested, imprisoned, waiting for Roman authorities to decide his fate (release or death)—that is a condition that demands interpretation. Very likely there were some Christians in Philippi who were beginning to wonder if their church was really of God. If preaching the gospel gets you arrested, what will happen to us? Is Paul’s fate to be ours as well? Paul needs to interpret his chains. Paul writes his concerned friends in Philippi to assure them in joyful tones that his imprisonment “has served to advance the gospel”; from his own experience, Paul wanted the believers at Philippi to know an important truth⸺there are no accidents with God.
It might appear that as a prisoner in Rome, Paul was not in a situation where he could carry out his life’s mission and would, therefore, be in deep despair. Those responsible for Paul’s imprisonment had sought to silence him by means of confinement, but their strategy backfired. They unwittingly gave him and new pulpit, a new forum, and a new audience. The gospel was actually advanced by what happenedb to him, for people were beginning to understand the reason for Paul’s imprisonment, and therefore, the gospel was being preached because of his imprisonment. Paul does not attribute his imprisonment to God or say that in itself it is good. His claim is that there has been salvage value from it; God has used it for good (Romans 8:28c). This reminds us that every circumstance of life is a platform on which the transforming grace of God can be manifested in the life of the Lord’s own.
Behind the apostle’s words lies all that it meant for one who had been free to range far and wide preaching the gospel, to be confined and, as probably was the case, chained day and night to Roman soldiers. He does not dwell on his own suffering, but rejoices in the progress of the gospel. We can imagine the soldiers who had guarded Paul returning to tell others that he was in chains for Christ, and being doubtless moved by the spirit with which he bore his imprisonment.
a “Advance” translates a word that literally means “to cut in front of.”
b “Happened” translates a phrase that more literally means “the things pertaining to me.” It is best rendered “my circumstances” (Ephesians 6:21; Colossians 4:7). Paul is referring to being mobbed in Jerusalem, unjustly imprisoned, shipwrecked, chained to guards, etc.
c “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).