Philippians 1:12–26comment (0)
March 10, 2011
By Cecil Taylor
Related Scripture: Philippians 1:12–26
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Dean, School of Christian Studies, University of Mobile
LIFT UP THE GOSPEL
Part of Paul’s purpose in writing was to let the Philippians know about his present circumstances. Philippians 1:18 dominates the section. Despite hostility toward enemies and jealousy of competitors, Christ is preached. Paul’s circumstances were tolerable because they served the gospel.
Paul Rejoiced (12–18)
Hard things had happened to Paul: He was mobbed in Jerusalem, plotted against, unjustly imprisoned, shipwrecked and then confined to his rented house while he awaited a hearing. House arrest included being chained to a soldier but allowed considerable liberty, including a daily bath, access to friends, good food and a comfortable bed (cf The Antiquities of the Jews 18.6.5). These misfortunes did not dishearten him, however, because they “served to advance the gospel.” “Advance” was the word for clearing away obstacles that blocked the forward movement of an army or expedition. Neither the Jews from Asia Minor in the temple, Felix and Festus in Caesarea, shipwreck on the Mediterranean nor Nero’s delay in Rome could stop the gospel’s onward march. Paul’s imprisonment opened doors for witnessing that might never otherwise have opened.
First the whole palace guard came to know Paul was a prisoner for no civil or political crime but only for Christ’s sake. Those members of the crack Praetorian regiment, the emperor’s bodyguards, chained to Paul learned the real reason for his confinement, and some came to know Christ. This knowledge they shared with other guards and friends, and when later assigned duty in distant areas, they bore the word to “all the rest.” Church historians have long recognized that Christianity spread so rapidly in the first three centuries of this era because of the gospel’s progress among soldiers.
Also Paul’s undaunted courage and enthusiasm in trouble shamed many into action who, at first, held back because of fear. His chains rebuked their cowardice, so they spoke “more courageously and fearlessly.”
While Paul’s friends redoubled their efforts so the gospel would lose nothing because of his imprisonment, his competitors worked harder because they saw in his confinement a heaven-sent opportunity to advance their influence and prestige and lessen his. These were neither pagans nor heretics but people who truly preached Christ, even if their motives were mixed. Paul did not rejoice in selfish and insincere preaching but that even such preaching helps souls who hunger for Christ to find Him. Can a man be saved if the preacher is lost or lacks integrity? Sure. Salvation depends on the message, not the messenger.
Paul Expected Release (19–26)
Whether his “deliverance” was release from custody or his personal final salvation is not clear, but later references to the possibility of dying keep this “salvation” (literally) from being only physical release. Whether release or death, Paul had one “eager expectation and hope:” He never wanted to be shamed into silence. A telescope adds nothing to the universe’s grandeur. It only makes the grandeur visible. Paul did not aim to add to Christ’s glory but to make that glory clear to the nations.
In Irving Stone’s “The Agony and the Ecstasy,” a friend of the young Michelangelo tried to get him to give up sculpture. “There is no money in it and no future. Sculpture is at the very bottom of the list!” Michelangelo answered, “Sculpture is at the top of my list, Soggi. In fact, there is no list. I say, ‘sculpture,’ and I’m finished.” When Paul said “Christ,” he was finished. And death could do nothing but give Paul more of Christ. “Life — I win; death — I win!”
Paul preferred to die and be with Christ. The original language ties together “to depart (die)” and “to be with Christ” as opposite sides of the same coin. But it appeared there was work for him yet. So he was “torn between the two.” The Philippians needed him, and he was confident God meant him to remain alive, be released and help them progress in the faith.