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Explore The Bible - Philippians 1:12-26

ETB Fall 2021  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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Understand the Context

Last week we looked at the opening of Paul’s letter to the Philippians and how he prayed for them and encouraged them that the work of God was being done in them and would continue until He made them complete. Today we hear more about the way God is working around Paul while he is in prison.
[LifeWay Adults (2020). (p. 24). Explore the Bible: Adult Leader Guide - ESV - Fall 2021. LifeWay Press.
The apostle begins today’s text with a summary reference to the past by speaking of what had happened to him. He moved quickly to update the Philippian church on what was going on concerning the spread of the gospel as a result of what had happened. However, his focus was not on his personal situation as much as it was the resultant progress of the gospel witness that was happening in Rome. In particular, the apostle focused on the twin facts that Roman guards were responding to the gospel and believers in Rome were gaining courage to share the gospel without fear (1:12-14)
We come to understand some of the meaning behind “being partakers“ in verse 7 of last week’s lesson a little better in the first portion of our text today.
God, Christ, and the Spirit are doing the work (just like verse 6 said) and Paul and the believers are witnesses and participants to the work being done.

Explore the Text

Gospel progress

Philippians 1:12–13 ESV
I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ.
Paul wants to continue to encourage the believers that even though he is imprisoned it is not harmful to God’s purpose. The words here are reminiscent of Joseph speaking to his brothers.
Ge 50:20 “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, ...”
Even though the imprisonment was intended as a form of punishment, God was using in to further His purposes. This “confinement” vs. “advancement” starts a series of contrasts that help to emphasize the work of the Spirit being unhindered by circumstance or surroundings.
Know in verse 12 is ginosko - experiential knowledge. The know in 16, 19, & 25 are all oida -head/academic knowledge. Paul is telling the Philippians that “I want you learn from my experience that what has happened to me can advance the gospel around and in you as well”.

Guards and prisoners

Paul had appealed to Caesar as Roman citizen and so has made his way a prison that is near if not in the palace complex. This affords Paul the chance to have guards that are within the imperial ranks. Every changing of the guard brings a new prospect for the apostle to when to Christ. There were probably even more prisoners than guards, so they too were hearing all these gospel accounts. Eventually the “whole imperial guard” has heard about Paul and the reason for his appeal and imprisonment. God’s truth was spreading through both those in the prison and those being imprisoned, and this gave Paul reason to rejoice and tell others, like the Philippians about it.

Brothers and rivals

Whether or not some of the other prisoners were followers of Christ before Paul came, we cannot tell from this text but we do know that there were other believers nearby that were also sharing the gospel for both salvation and sanctification.
Philippians 1:14 ESV
And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.
My Greek is not good enough and I do not have a degree in ancient Roman culture to tell if these “brothers” and those in the next few verses were Greek, Jews, prisoners, or visitors. It may be that such details are not as important as what was happening. The point was not as much about who was more confident but that what they did with it. These brothers were beginning to know - ginosko know - the boldness that Paul would write, possibly to these very same believers,
Romans 1:16–17 ESV
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”
I think that some if not all of these that were emboldened by Paul’s faith and their desire for Christ’s name to be proclaimed were some prisoners like Paul. If they were already condemned and in imperial prison what else could they lose that was not already given to God? This realization may be why is seems that the more that Christians are persecuted the bolder some become to speak God’s truth.
Another aspect of these believers being prisoners and God growing the ministry could be the lack of formal training in God’s word. I think of Peter and John devote apostles but not a trained pharisee like Saul now Paul.
Ac 4:13 “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.”
What better way to proclaim the gracious effects of coming to Christ than to astound the academics with the truths of Christ from a emboldened heart in the midst of prison.
But not everyone around Paul that was a believer had the best reasons for speaking about our Lord Christ.

From envy or good will

Philippians 1:15–18 ESV
Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. 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,
Again, we hear echoes of Joseph’s speech
In my brief study of this section, I found that there were as many discussing the “proper order” of verses 16 & 17 as there were that “speculated” on what form the animosity toward Paul took. I think maybe the point Paul was trying to direct us toward was that it didn’t really matter how, or what order, or who proclaimed Christ as long as it was done correctly - God be praised!
The contrasts in these verses again emphasize God’s overcoming work, envy & rivalry are in opposition to love & defense, good will against selfish ambition, pretense versus truth, but in every way - Christ is proclaimed.
I also notice that unlike in other letters from Paul he does not attack an invalid method or doctrine but seems to see what they are saying is helpful to the gospel it is just their hearts that not in accord with Christ. In the letter to the Galatians, he wrote 1:8 “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.” Their message at this time seems to be sound doctrine just for the wrong reasons. It could be that Paul did not know these people very well yet and later when he wrote back to some of these Romans he may have understood their ways better and proclaimed Romans 2:8 “but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury.” Paul wanted a clear message of the gospel proclaimed not matter who was doing it. Gal 1:8 “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.”

Pretense or Truth

He finishes this portion of the text about the other gospel spreaders with question. I really cannot label as rhetorical as there is not an implied yes/no answer given. Paul uses this same question in a more rhetorical sense in the Rom 6:15 “What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!” We clearly see an emphasis on the No and that a Yes would be not only incorrect but downright absurd. So, in our text the question is more for discovery than correction.
In the ESV which I am reading it is “What then?”, in several other translations is “What does it matter?” and one paraphrased version translated it, "How should I respond?" I think I may say “So what?!”. So what if they don’t like me, as long as Christ is proclaimed. Paul’s focus was more on the truth of Christ being told to as many people as possible accurately regardless of any personal discomfort or malignment.
What level of personal discomfort are you willing to take in order to advance the message of Christ?
Paul’s focus and ours should be on the message, and not the messenger. We should be concerned with the truthfulness of our message and not the possible reactions of our hearers. If Christ is proclaimed, what else matters?
Like Luther wrote in the the preface to the Letter of James in his German New Testament of 1522: “That which does not teach Christ is not apostolic, even if Peter or Paul taught it. Again, that which does preach Christ is apostolic, even if Judas, Annas, Pilate or Herod did it.”
Not only did Paul rejoice however the message of Christ was being proclaimed, he was glad for the way that God was working through the Philippians and in his own life.

Living for Christ

Prayers for deliverance - not in shame but with honor to Christ

Philippians 1:19–20 ESV
for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, 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.
How important are your prayers for other believers?
Paul puts the prayers of the Philippians in same sentence and directly links them to the work of the Holy Spirit in his own life. As we pray “according to His will” (1John 5:14) His work is accomplished. What an encouragement to those who believe this truth fully when you tell them “I will pray for you”. Let’s just be sure we do it and with a proper heart so that God can hear and act upon it.
Paul gives us several things he was hoping would be accomplished soon in a way that would continue to honor Christ and proclaim His message. In the ESV he uses the word “deliverance”.

The Greek word used here, sōtēria, means rescue from danger (compare Matt 14:30; Mark 15:31) and often is translated as “salvation”

Rescue and salvation both show an expectation of coming out of the current situation and continuing to live. We can also tell Paul is talking about physical deliverance and not spiritual but the references to his emotions (ashamed vs. courage) and his body. He does not know or has not been divinely guided to know the outcome of his trial or his imprisonment because of his desire to honor Christ in “life or death”. This is different than in his letter to Timothy later. 2 Tim 4:6 “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come.” This not knowing leads us to hear Paul’s determined purpose to live for Christ and his message no matter the outcome.
Philippians 1:21–22 ESV
For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell.

Death only stops Christ work through Paul on earth

Supposedly in the Greek, this first sentence is even shorter increasing its emphasis. My Interlinear transliterates it as “For me life Christ and die gain.” Sorry Paul, but my Greek just isn’t good enough to catch all the power being implied but it does remind me of another verse that he wrote to the Galatians:
Galatians 2:20 ESV
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
His life did not matter to him, only whatever was of benefit to Christ’s work was important. He knew that Christ work was being done through him and was “fruitful” obvious to those who cared to notice. But he also knew that to be absent from the body was to be with the Lord (2Cor5:8). And if you are willing to give your life over to Christ here on earth, there will be no greater pleasure than to be with Him away from the taint of sin and death in His home. Paul knows that the work Christ is doing in him and in us will not stop until it is completed (Php 1:6) but seem to have some choice in the matter. What a hard choice.

Paul prefers to live with Christ than living for Christ

Philippians 1:23 ESV
I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.
He admits to the Philippians the struggle. Some translations say that he was “torn” between the options to live for Christ or with Christ. The word studies I was able to do suggest that this wording of being “hard pressed” inward from two different directions is a better picture of the struggle than being pulled away from two sides. Today we may say between “a rock and hard place”. Homer personified it as “Scylla and Charybdis”. Paul was honest with us though and as believers who can blame him for wanting to be rid of the confines of this world and bask in the glory of God and Christ. Yes, Paul would be delivered out of bondage - judicial or physical but he would choose as his Lord would ask of him.

Paul submits to Christ’s will even over his own desires

Philippians 1:24 ESV
But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.
Paul, like Christ in the garden, chooses what is best for others over his own personal desires. Paul, like his Lord, sacrifices an eternal reward for a temporal labor. He lives out a personal example to what we will study later in chapter two.
Philippians 2:3–4 ESV
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
How significant are you considered by Christ?
Enough to leave eternity and the glorious presence of his father and suffer an excruciating death on your behalf. Paul’s yielding to stay and minister to the churches God had given him continues that example of Christ.

Living for Christ benefits others and glorifies Christ

Philippians 1:25–26 ESV
Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.
Building on the assurance of his deliverance, Paul now assures the Philippians of his work on their behalf and another reason for him to stay at the fruitful labor on the earth. The prisoner encourages the free by continuing to put them and their needs ahead of his own. Notice all the references to “them”- Your progress, your joy, your cause for glorifying Christ. The teacher strives and works to make his students better just as our Lord immortal and sinless humbled himself for the mortal and sinful. Even in this though Paul does not want any credit and continues to point and guide the Philippians to how it is Christ that is doing this in him and through for their benefit and He deserves any glory. But not just a little bit but “ample”, more than enough to show how much the gospel and grace of Christ has done in their lives. Not only for deliverance from sin but from its bondage throughout our lives as we “live Christ” and die to self for the advancement of the Good News of Jesus.

Apply the Text

When our focus is more on this advancement of the gospel than our own desires even death has little hindrance to the work. Paul, like us, doesn’t know if he will die soon or not but regardless, He knows that Christ’s work is not yet complete for He has not returned on “that day.”
We must be diligent in sowing the seeds of the gospel into the lives of others whether they are currently believers or not. I have a patch of dirt where my daughters play set used to be until last weekend. I have scraped up the ground, mixed in some premium soil, and throw down a bunch of good seed. Probably way more than needed for a 5’x5’ square but I am OK with that as I am determined to get grass and not weeds growing there. I have watered regularly and if I don’t see growth soon, I’m going to put down more seed and water some more. I will keep adding seed and water until I see some sign growth in the seed. Shouldn’t I be doing the same in the lives of my unsaved family and friends. Throwing out the seed of God’s truth and the gospel profusely. Bathing them in constant prayer. And if I don’t see any growth, add more truth and more prayer until His work becomes evident in their lives. Then like when I do see my grass growing, switching tactics slightly and instead looking for and promoting new growth, tenderly encouraging the growth that has begun with more water (prayer) and fertilizer (encouragement). And whether the storms come, the birds eat the seed, or the dog rolls around in it, the grass will grow. Not because of anything I have done, I merely put out seed and watered, God causes all growth - in my lawn or my friends. 1Cor 3:7 “So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.”
The entire gospel message can be used by God regardless of the intent of the speaker for His glory and the building up of believers. I doubt that any of us coming to church online or in person early on a Sunday morning would even consider speaking about Jesus to others with anything other than good will and love. So, for us this text should give us boldness to speak when the circumstances do not appear to be favorable. If less than godly intentions could be used to expand Christ’s kingdom, how much more can God use a willing humble vessel. Therefore “in every way”, eloquently or bumbling, with diligent research or from failing memories, let Christ be proclaimed and rejoice in His gracious work.
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