Rejoicing in Christ
If anyone had a reason to ask, “Why me?” it was the apostle Paul. No one who followed Christ suffered more for the gospel than he did (2 Cor. 11:22–31). Luke wrote extensively about Paul’s trials, defenses, and imprisonments in the book of Acts. Through it all, Paul continually rejoiced in Christ.
For many years, Paul had wanted to preach the gospel in Rome (Rom. 1:10, 13; 15:22–24). He was certain he would eventually do so long before he went. Some of Paul’s most effective ministry took place while imprisoned in Rome. God often fulfills our prayers much differently than we expect. Whatever Paul’s situation, he found joy knowing he was in the Lord’s will, for he rejoiced in the privilege of ministering, even as a prisoner.
Paul wrote, “But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel, so that it has become evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest, that my chains are in Christ” (Phil. 1:12–13).
Paul called the Philippian believers “brethren” because they were closely involved with his ministry in prayer and support. He wanted to update them on his condition since they knew he was taken to Rome as a prisoner. Even though he was chained to a Roman guard, he was following God’s will.
Paul’s ministry was in no way hindered while he was in prison. In fact, “the things which happened to [Paul had] actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel” (v. 12). Rather than dwelling on his suffering in prison, he pointed out that what seemed like a setback in his ministry turned out to be for the “furtherance,” or advancement, of the gospel. What seemed like a tragedy was God’s will for Paul, which opened the door for him to reach Gentiles and Jewish people in Rome. Thus, the apostle wanted the Philippians to rejoice with him over the advancement of the gospel and not to mourn over his confinement.
Paul explained “that it has become evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest, that my chains are in Christ” (v. 13). As a prisoner in Rome, he preached the gospel not only to the palace guard but to many others also. Paul received all who came to him for two years in his own rented house, thus unhindered in his ministry (Acts 28:30–31). God gave Paul this opportunity to reach the palace guard and even Caesar’s court. Some of the soldiers who were assigned to guard Paul received Christ and most likely became missionaries later in life.
Paul’s prison ministry empowered other Christians. He wrote, “And most of the brethren in the Lord, having become confident by my chains, are much more bold to speak the word without fear” (Phil. 1:14). Most who knew of Paul’s imprisonment were initially timid in revealing their commitment to Christ for fear of arrest, imprisonment, and even death. But Paul’s faithfulness and boldness to preach Christ while in custody prompted these fainthearted Christians to become bold witnesses to share the gospel and salvation through Christ in Rome and Philippi.
Preaching With Contention
Those who were emboldened to preach God’s Word fell into two groups. “Some indeed preach Christ even from [because of] envy and strife, and some also from goodwill: The former preach Christ from selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my chains; but the latter out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel” (vv. 15–17).
The former group preached God’s Word with “envy and strife.” The word envy means they harbored ill will or jealousy against Paul because they did not possess his gifts and boldness. Their jealousy led to “strife,” or contention coupled with conflict or rivalry, seeking to harm Paul’s reputation and ministry. They did not preach “sincerely,” meaning purely or honestly.
Paul said their reason was “to add affliction to my chains” (v. 16). These preachers hoped to add misery and division to Paul’s ministry and turn Christians away from him so they could advance themselves at Paul’s expense. He did not mention what these men preached or how they acted.
Sadly, contention and rivalry often exist among ministers and ministries. Some even try to destroy the name and reputation of other leaders’ work or organizations to promote their own careers.
The latter group preached Christ out of “goodwill” (v. 15, cf. v. 17)—that is, out of appreciation for Paul, especially when he was in prison. They knew he was not in prison due to criminal behavior but for faithfully proclaiming and defending the gospel of Christ.
Paul said this group preached not only out of goodwill but “out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel” (v. 17). These men were active because of their goodwill toward Paul and their deep love for him and his work.
Notice the motives of these two groups. The first group preached with contention, a divisive spirit of envy and strife, trying to destroy Paul’s name and reputation. The second group preached out of love to win souls to Christ.
The word appointed (v. 17) describes a soldier acting as a sentry assigned to guard a person or area. Paul’s analogy was appropriate since a guard was always appointed over him during his imprisonment.
The men knew God had appointed Paul “for the defense of the gospel” (v. 17). The word defense (Greek, apologia) is a judicial term from which we get the word apologetics. Paul was in the custody of Rome because he was predestined to defend himself and the gospel before Caesar (Acts 25:11).
Paul concluded, “What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice” (Phil. 1:18).
What did Paul think of the two groups? The contentious group was not preaching false doctrine because he did not make mention of their error or reject their preaching. But he did not accept their motive for preaching, and neither would God. They were preaching with a “pretense” or “pretext,” meaning they preached hypocritically. Their preaching was not to glorify Christ or to win people to the Lord but to personally degrade Paul and his ministry and elevate their own. Although Paul rejected their motive and method of preaching, he did not show resentment, jealousy, or animosity.
The second group preached purely because they preached out of “truth” (v. 18). Their motive was to exalt and glorify Christ and see souls won to the Lord. Thus, he said, “Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice” (v. 18).
Paul’s joy was not dependent on his freedom or the actions of others. He continually rejoiced because Christ was preached all over Rome, Philippi, and wherever Christians went.
Although confined by Rome and awaiting trial, Paul was confident of his deliverance: “For I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayer and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ” (v. 19).
Paul knew, or understood intuitively with conviction and confidence, that through his imprisonment the gospel of Christ was being more widely proclaimed. He also knew God would work out his suffering for his “deliverance.” The word deliverance (Greek, soteria) can be translated “salvation”—not from sin in this instance but from prison (vv. 24–25).
The Holy Spirit helped Paul remain joyful and committed in persecution. Paul wrote, “According to my earnest expectation and hope that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death” (v. 20).
Paul was confident that at his trial, whether he would be released from prison or condemned to die, he would look for that day with “earnest expectation and hope,” or great confidence in the Lord. Whatever the Lord’s will was, Paul would not be “ashamed” (put to shame or disgraced). He would face his situation “with all boldness,” full of joy, freedom of speech, fearless confidence, and assurance in Christ.
Above all, Paul knew whether he lived or died, Christ would be exalted and glorified in his own body. He was prepared, filled with joy and expectation no matter what the Lord had planned for him. Whatever happened to Paul, his one concern was that Christ be magnified by his life. May this also be our joy as believers in Christ!