Sharing with Joy

Week of January 29, 2017

The Point:  I can share Christ with joy no matter what.

Joy in the Gospel:  Philippians 1:12-21.

[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 rivalry, 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, [19]  for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, [20]  as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. [21]  For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.  [ESV]

“Suffering [12-14].  The linking thought in verses 13 and 14 is the expression my imprisonment. In this undramatic way Paul calls attention to himself as a sufferer. Paul does not elaborate his discomforts so as to call attention to himself: that would be inappropriate in a man professing to subdue his body so that Christ may be glorified through him. Rather he wants us to focus our attention on the effect his bonds have upon the work of the gospel and the church.

  1. The fruitfulness of Christian suffering. Refusing the way of self-pity, then, Paul does not describe the effect of his imprisonment upon himself but its effect upon others. And first, he tells us that his imprisonment was a testimony to the world. Indeed, it is this which helps him to his great conclusion that the things which happened to him had served to advance the gospel as it became known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest [13]. His imprisonment had a second effect: it was a stimulus to the church. Christians were stirred up to bolder and more effective preaching. Verse 14 is very instructive on the subject of Christian testimony. We learn who are the agents in witness: the brothers. The modern church, sadly, would be more inclined to say that testimony is the work of those in ‘full-time’ service. They are the mouthpiece of the church to the world. It was not so in the apostolic church. The brothers were out on the job telling the world about Christ. Paul tells us also of the power which marked their service and where it came from: they were confident in the Lord. Paul does not spell out what was the link between his imprisonment and their increase of confidence. For Christ indicates that Paul very plainly accepted his imprisonment as an opportunity to show his devotion to the Lord. The brothers saw Paul’s unbroken confidence that Jesus is Lord, to be trusted even when everything appears to go wrong, in sovereign control even when His servant seemed to fall into the power of man. Surely it is this trustworthy Christ that the brothers saw afresh and they came to trust Him more confidently. Confidence showed itself in the manner of their witness which was much more bold and without fear. There is something remarkable about this. Paul was in prison for the very reason that he was bold and without fear in his stand for Christ, yet suddenly the instinct of self-preservation began to wither in them and a new fearlessness took over. The substance of their witness follows next. Since they found power coming to them from the Lord, what should they speak of but Him? What they actually said is described in verse 14 as the word, which means that their message did not come from themselves but was God’s truth. The focal point or substance of their message was that they preached Christ [15,17,18]. The verb preach means ‘to do the work of a herald’ – i.e. to transmit faithfully and clearly what someone else, a higher authority, has commanded to be proclaimed. Here too there is surely a mandate for the present day: to declare with clarity a message coming from God and centered upon the Lord Jesus Christ. The church was stimulated to this action of gospel proclamation by Paul’s sufferings. His suffering was a positive, fruitbearing thing.
  2. The explanation of the fruitfulness. Three truths, all about Paul the sufferer, encircle the fact of his suffering. The first we have already observed, but must now return to it again in its proper place; in his suffering he was self-effacing. He did not use the occasion of suffering either to turn his thoughts in upon himself or to make himself the object of other people’s attention and interest. Secondly, Paul the sufferer was still witnessing to Christ. Whether he sat alone with his guard, or whether a visitor called, the talk was always the same; it was all Christ. The suffering was the occasion of testimony to the Lord. The verbal testimony was rooted in Paul’s inner attitude towards his suffering. He saw himself as a man under orders. He writes, I am put here for the defense of the gospel [16]. Paul did not see his suffering as an act of divine forgetfulness, nor as a dismissal from service, nor as the work of Satan, but as the place of duty, the setting for service, the task appointed. The great ambassador is no longer free to range over land and sea with the good news, but he has not ceased to be an ambassador. The form of his ambassadorship has changed but not its purpose and duty. He is an ambassador in chains [Eph. 6:20]. Paul relates his experiences with such a light touch that we might be deceived into thinking that what is easily told was easily accomplished. But why should it have been any easier for Paul than it is for us to leave the path of self-pity, to take more of Christ than of our complaints and to accept each and every circumstance as the place of duty He has appointed? Such notoriously difficult attitudes of mind and heart are brought about only by practice, by hard-won choices in the very heat of that tribulation which works patience. As Paul looks forward into the future, he expresses what is in fact his abiding attitude: now as always Christ will be honored [20]. How that word now needs to eat its way into our minds and hearts and wills! It is now that we must show how great Christ is. Never again will we have the chance to live for Him through this moment, to please Him in this circumstance, to gladden Him by trusting in this ordeal.

Divisions [15-18].  In verse 14 we sense Paul’s delight in the forward move of the gospel through the ministry of an awakened church, but verses 15-18 open other windows into the state of affairs, and we learn that all was not quite so rosy. The first of the disquieting facts is that Paul observes people whose hearts were at war with their testimony. The preachers in the Roman church were of two sorts, differentiated by their attitude towards the apostle. The one group consisted of those who felt genuine goodwill towards him, and all their Christian activity was motivated by love for him, springing out of their knowledge that he was put in prison for the defense of the gospel [16]. On the other side stood those who worked in order to afflict me in my imprisonment [17]. The common thread between the two groups was that Christ is proclaimed [18]. They were Christian preachers, then, but divided people. And not just divided from other Christians, but divided internally; their hearts were at war with their testimony. For even while they preached Christ they nourished emotions inimical to the gospel. Paul tells us of their envy and rivalry [15,17]. Why were they envious? Why were they moved to oppose him and to fight for themselves? Paul does not say. He is as reticent here about the sins of others as he was in verses 13-14 about his own sufferings. All we know is that they presented the truth about Christ in such a way as to express their animosity against the apostle. There is great grace in Paul’s silence, and great wisdom too. Paul deals in generalities, for it is still true that those who claim to love and preach the same Lord find opportunity at the same time to snipe and hint and denigrate. But Paul does not stop short of invading the realm of motive: they do not preach sincerely, for as well as seeking the glory of Christ in the conversion of sinners and the edification of saints, they also thought to afflict Paul. But he does not dwell on what they did to him, and to this day we cannot be certain what it was. All we know is that they committed a cardinal sin of the preacher, to use the pulpit to make sly innuendoes and veiled attacks and concealed, damaging hints. They were double-minded. Their public lives warred with their private lives, and their tongues with their thoughts. The Bible is very emphatic in its warnings of the spiritual peril of such a double life. In the present passage Paul does not pause to issue warnings. He is describing what he finds, and in so far as he has a purpose in his description it is not to denounce the divided loyalties of his opponents, nor their deceitfulness, nor to point them to a remedy. His purpose rather is to show how a Christian ought to behave when faced with a divided church, what things may be ignored, what deserves priority, to what principle an appeal may be made, and what is to be left out of account. Divisions in the church remain one of the features of our own day, whether we think of individual differences and even antagonism within a local church, or of the proliferation of denomination and other groupings. In this passage in Philippians Paul helps us to see in miniature, in one local church, what faces us locally and world-wide: two sets of people, each claiming the name of Christ, but not at one, not easy with each other, divided. The passage speaks most plainly to us at the individual level. Paul did not speak out against the personal animosity that some had towards him. On the contrary, the focal point of Paul’s understanding of apostleship becomes plain in the positive principle which he applied and followed through during his Roman imprisonment. He invites us to consider how his experiences have fallen out for the advancement of the gospel [12], how his sufferings have encouraged the brethren to speak the word of God with boldness [14], to preach and proclaim Christ [15,17-18]. There is no true unity where there is no unity in truth. We ought to notice that in this passage it is not even the person of Christ which occupies Paul, but the proclamation of Christ. There is the possibility that Christians can come together into an amorphous grouping around a common acknowledgment of the Lord Jesus Christ, but how can this be called Christian unity unless there is agreement as to what is true about the Lord Jesus Christ: that ‘Lord’ points to His unequivocal and eternal deity, ‘Jesus’ to the Word made flesh, the God-Man, and ‘Christ’ to His office as divinely endowed Savior of sinners? If the name and title mean different things to different people, then it is a sign of their variance, not their unity. Unity must be unity in the truth. And to Paul, this means, at center, unity in gospel truth, unity in the evangelistic message, unity of understanding of Christ, His person, mission, death and resurrection. Differences of personal like and dislike will remain in the church; different stages of sanctification will mark individual Christians; different appreciations of what constitutes the will of God for a person’s life will continue to be expressed. But all these are secondary – secondary to the grand truth of individual redemption by the blood of Christ, of being accepted by God in Christ, and, what grips and controls Paul in his Roman jail, common possession of the saving truth of the gospel.

Looking forward [19-21]. Paul opens up his attitude towards the future by speaking of his deliverance. Paul writes that this will turn out for my deliverance [19]. What does he mean by this? Taken in its widest scope it can refer to all things which God works through for the advantage of His people. We can go back to 1:6 as a basic truth: he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. Each item in Paul’s experience is but another of the Father’s finishing touches, and all will result in the full enjoyment of salvation. This is a sure faith for Paul and for us also. The Christian need never fear the outcome of events. Life brings its daily pressures. But God is over all, and there is no point in believing in a sovereign God if He can be tumbled off the throne by human or satanic agency! Philippians 1:6 tells us about this God, beginning, completing, and purposing to finish His good work in and for us. Romans 8:28 tells us about our personal history in which all things work together for good. Paul takes and accepts this great and comforting truth in a precise and unpleasant period of his life. But, in the immediate context, this could refer to your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ [19]. Of the Spirit means either that the Spirit brings us the full supply in His great office of making real in our experience all the benefits and blessings of faith in God [Rom. 8:11], or else that the Spirit Himself is the full supply as He indwells the believer. His is called the Spirit of Jesus Christ because his presence in us and His gracious work for us have been purchased by the saving work of Christ. Thus, God not only rules our lives from the throne, but He also sustains our lives from within. This, however, is in answer to the prayers of other Christians. The two thoughts of intercession and supply are bound closely together by Paul. Paul could have asked for the Spirit for himself, and no doubt often did. It is a God-given privilege to ask for the Holy Spirit, and we are all invited to do so. But Paul turned the matter in another direction: he showed himself concerned for the spiritual welfare of the Philippians, and his love for them issued in prayer. He also needs and asks for their prayers. This is our responsibility to one another and something for which we depend on one another. We have an obligation to put one another’s spiritual growth in the very forefront of our prayers, and to take the responsibility very seriously. Then Paul comes to his own responsibility in this matter of final deliverance. God will bring him there; the prayers of Christians will sustain him on his way; meanwhile he himself pursues his great ambition. Paul here emphasizes three elements in his make-up. He is absorbed in an eager expectation. Paul’s attention is wholly occupied with one thing, to the exclusion of others. This eager expectation rests upon hope which in the New Testament means something whose coming is certain, but whose timing is uncertain. He does not tell us now the ground of this certain hope, for he has already made it plain. What can it be but that he is confident that God will see him safely home, and that Christ will prove sufficient for every eventuality on the road? The efforts which the Christian makes are not the doomed attempts of the unsaved to merit glory. They are the appointed avenue along which we express outwardly the new life in Christ which we already possess, and the means by which we come to enjoy that new life more completely. We can understand, therefore, the determination which Paul shows in pursuing his goal. It has three aspects. First, it is a determination to keep his conscience clear – that I will not be at all ashamed [20]. Second, he is determined to maintain a plain, full testimony with confidence and courage: with full courage [20]. Thirdly, Paul is determined to maintain an unblemished record: now as always [20]. On what is his determination concentrated? On the Christian’s greatest of all ambitions for the future: that Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death [20]. This is what God is aiming at as He prepares the saints for the great day; it is what He is doing as He rules and overrules the circumstances of His people, and it is what He expects us to do through the constant and demanding efforts of our conscience and our will as we obey Him. What does Paul mean when he says that for him to live is Christ, and to die is gain [21]. In 3:4-8 he uses the word gain in a way which illuminates his meaning here. In that passage he is looking back to the day when Christ became everything to him. He had candidly added up all that might have been counted as valuable; he had found Christ more valuable, and gladly surrendered all to and for Him. But this attitude persists. Paul turns to a present tense: he is still counting and still finding the surpassing worth of Christ, so that his whole life may be summed up as the progressive abandonment of everything else in the interest of possessing more and more of Christ. Gaining Christ, then, is another way of expressing the Christian’s progressive experience of sanctification, growth in grace, or becoming more and more like Jesus. Returning to 1:21, Paul defines his life as gaining Christ, and death as the ultimate gain itself. In life he is absorbed and determined in consecrated living for Christ; in death he expects to possess Christ totally.”  [Motyer, pp. 62-88].

Questions for Discussion:

  1. All of us face various forms of suffering in our lives. What do we learn from these verses how a believer should deal with suffering? Where was Paul’s focus throughout his imprisonment? What effect did Paul’s behavior have on other believers? How might God use the way you respond to suffering to impact other believers?
  1. In 1:15-18, Paul speaks about divisions in the church at Philippi. What is the cause of these divisions? Paul describes two types of people preaching Christ at Philippi. What motivated each group? What does it mean to preach Christ from envy and rivalry? Compare 1:15-18 to Galatians 1:6-9. Why is Paul upset in one place where people are preaching from selfish ambition and not in the other case? Motyer writes: “There is no true unity where there is no unity in truth.” What truth is Motyer referring to here? What can we learn from these verses concerning how to handle divisions in the church?
  1. What was Paul’s attitude toward the future as expressed in 1:19-21? What goal was Paul pursuing in the midst of his imprisonment? What are the three aspects of the way Paul was pursuing this goal? What basic truth did 1:6 provide Paul so that he was able to pursue his goal with full courage? What should our goal be in our suffering?


Let’s Study Philippians, Sinclair Ferguson, Banner of Truth.

The Letter to the Philippians, G. Walter Hansen, Eerdmans.

The Message of Philippians, J. A. Motyer, Inter Varsity.

Philippians, Moises Silva, Baker.

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