Lesson 3: Part 2 of 2 (series: Lessons on Philippians)

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)


Paul discloses that, “the whole palace guarda and everyone elseb are aware that I am in chains for Christ.” These had come to know that Paul was not under arrest for some crime but because of his relationship with Christ; “I am in chains for Christ.” The way Paul phrases his condition, “in chains for Christ,” denotes something beyond the legal reason for his imprisonment. It was well known that he was not under guard for being a lawbreaker; rather Paul is in chains not merely because of Christ, but for Christ. Those around Paul see that he sits in prison as a service to Christ. As a result, they are curious about the gospel for which Paul suffers so willingly. T.W. Drury writes: “The very chain which Roman discipline riveted on the prisoner’s arm secured to his side a hearer who would tell the story of patient suffering for Christ, among those who, the next day, might be in attendance on Nero himself.”

When Paul was converted the Lord Jesus said that Paul would “. . . bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel” (Acts 9:15). Well, Up to this time Paul had taken the gospel largely to the common, vegetable variety of citizens in the Roman Empire. But now he has members of the royalty chained to him! Every four hours, at the change of the guard, one guard would leave and be replaced by a new guard who would be chained to Paul. What do you think Paul talked about during those four hours? My guess is that some of them were happy to see their relief guard come. They would say, “Boy, am I glad to see you. This man Paul is trying to make a Christian out of me.” Many of them did come to know Christ. The gospel penetrated Caesar’s household. Later Tertullian wrote that the Roman government became disturbed when it was discovered that Christians were in positions of authority. Many of these men later died for their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Even professional guards could not resist speaking of this remarkable prisoner and the reason for his imprisonment. It does not say that any became Christians, but this may be implied in Philippians 4:22e.

a “Palace guard” is known as the “praetorian guards” in Rome and other places. Reference could be made to the main imperial guard in Rome, about 9,000 soldiers, or to some small detachment at Ephesus or Caesarea. Praetorian can also denote either a special building (i.e., a commanders headquarters, the emperor’s palace) or the group of men in the imperial guard. Because Paul was in his own rented facility in Rome, the palace guard probably refers to the members of the imperial guard who guarded Paul day and night (Acts 28:16c). The custom was for a prisoner to be chained at the wrist to a soldier.
b “Everyone else” refers to “all others,” pagans and Christians, who were in some way in touch with Paul’s imprisonment.
c The “palace” was actually Caesar’s court. Acts 28:16 tells us, “And when we came to Rome, the centurion delivered the prisoners to the captain of the guard: but Paul was suffered to dwell by himself with a soldier that kept him.” Paul was chained to a member of the Praetorian Guard, and these men were the Roman patricians, members of Caesar’s household.
d The term “clear” probably means “known for what it really is” and expresses the notion that although Paul’s imprisonment appeared at first glance to be truly miserable, on closer inspection its deeper significance came to light.
e “All God's people here send you greetings, especially those who belong to Caesar's household” (Philippians 4:22).


Paul indicated that his imprisonment had influenced Christians as well as outsiders. By now, he had been in prison for upwards of two years, so that there was time for his cause and the gospel to have become widely known in Rome. Christians could have been frightened into silence because of the arrest of the great apostle. Instead, they were motivated to speak out more boldly. Paul’s courage was contagious. I am confident that hundreds and maybe even thousands of men hit the Roman roads and moved out from door to door to tell people about Christ. So Paul says, “because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lordb and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.” It is not implied that they were silent prior to this but rather that though already vocal they became bolder. It was not because they did not realize the seriousness of Paul’s arrest but that they found new incentive and courage from Paul’s boldness. Paul so transcended his circumstances (4:11-13c) that they dared to declare the gospel without fear of consequences. It was Christ—or as Paul sometimes said with no difference in meaning, the Holy Spirit—who gave heart to the believers so that the arrest of a leader actually strengthens the church. Only by the Holy Spirit can the church experience the miraculous shift of attitude from assuming that wherever the Lord is, there is no suffering, to believing that wherever there is suffering, there the Lord is. This is another wonderful illustration of how God overrules the wicked plans of demons and men and brings triumph out of seeming tragedy and beauty from ashes. Persecution often has the effect of transforming quiet and bashful believers into courageous witnesses. Thus God constantly turns the seeming defeat of His spokesmen into notable victories for the gospel by His providential overruling of such opposition (Genesis 45:8a). “Man has his wickedness, but God has His way.” Observe the implication that all Christians have the privilege of proclaiming the gospel, not merely certain select people.

According to Paul, “Most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord”; MOST but not all, the exception being those detractors identified in verses 15 and 16, who were attacking Paul.

a “So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt” (Genesis 45:8)
b “In the Lord,” distinguishes them from “brethren after the flesh,” Jewish fellow countrymen.
c “Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (4:11-13).

To summarize, Paul says in verses 12-14 that his imprisonment, surprisingly, has caused the gospel’s progress. This progress can be measured by the way the gospel has swept through the ranks of those who live and work in the place of Paul’s imprisonment and by the inspiration that Paul’s circumstances have given to other believers to proclaim the gospel more boldly than ever before. The Philippians should not be concerned about Paul’s circumstances, for they have proven to be a vehicle for his ministry of reconciliation.

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