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. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.
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.
The Bible is filled with situations where seemingly awful or hopeless events bring about salvation for people and glory for God. Joseph is falsely accused and imprisoned, and God uses him to save the world from famine. Daniel is dragged into exile, and the pagan nation of Babylon ends up hearing about God. Perhaps the best example of this pattern is the story of Jesus Himself. Jesus is beaten, flogged, and crucified, and God was pleased to use His death to save the world. In Paul’s letter to the Romans he wrote, “for if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life” (Romans 5:10). God is in the business of bringing light through darkness.
Paul brings this perspective to his jail sentence in Rome. He tells his friends in Philippi, “what has happened to me has really served to advance the Gospel” (Philippians 1:12). Paul certainly could have been frustrated because he was a traveling evangelist, which meant that his entire life’s work was dependent upon being able to freely move from city to city in order to tell people about Jesus and develop churches. Now he finds himself in prison, and he’s forced to change his expectations. Paul does not diminish or romanticize his plight. His situation is beyond unfortunate. Nobody wants to be in prison. But Paul’s Gospel intentions are undeterred. He begins to look for ways that his imprisonment is giving him unique opportunities and influence that wouldn’t otherwise be possible.
First, Paul recognizes that he is encountering people in prison whom he wouldn’t have met otherwise, and he’s able to share Jesus with them. He writes, “it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ” (Philippians 1:13). The Roman imperial guard was an elite military unit that carried tremendous worldwide respect and influence in the first century. Paul’s status as a high priority prisoner meant that he was now rubbing shoulders with members of this special forces crew, and apparently he was talking with them about Jesus. The entire imperial guard (and all the rest!) knew that Paul’s imprisonment was for Jesus.
Often when we experience inconveniences (or worse) our focus is so much on ourselves that we move right past human interactions without a second thought. My family faces this dynamic every day. Because of my son Luke’s medical condition, we have encountered hundreds of people whom we wouldn’t have met otherwise, and we’ve also re-kindled a bunch of old relationships. We meet new people, and hear from “old” people, every single day. The parade of doctors, nurses, hospital workers, insurance providers, fellow sufferers, family members, and neighbors … the list is endless. Yesterday, a complete stranger approached me, introduced himself, and asked how Luke was doing. He told me how inspired he was by Luke’s courage. I was able to ask him about his own life and faith, and now I’m able to pray for him. Today, I got an email from a former student I worked with, expressing his concern for Luke. We’re beginning a dialogue that we haven’t had in over ten years. I am praying for him as well.
It would be fairly easy to dehumanize a prison guard (or nurse, or store clerk), but Paul starts a conversation. He builds relationships with some of the guards, and they like what he has to say about Jesus. In order for word to spread so far and so fast, the soldiers must have been talking to one another about their conversations with Paul. Paul now has influence in an arena he never could have imagined prior to being thrown in jail.
Paul also observes that the community of faith is gaining confidence and boldness by watching him suffer in prison. He says, “most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear” (Philippians 1:14). In other words, the fact that Paul chooses to rank the Gospel over his circumstances is inspiring to other believers. They’re more confident in their position in Christ and, therefore, more fearless in proclaiming Christ to others. This encouragement continues to this day! Think about the millions of people who have read Paul’s letter to the Philippians and who have gained courage because Paul had time to write while he was in prison. Amazing. Paul takes this Gospel focus even a step further, noting that there are some people who are putting a negative spin on Paul’s imprisonment, but still aiming to advance the Gospel by relishing Paul’s misfortune. Incredibly, even in the face of such immature behavior, Paul celebrates the fact that Jesus is being proclaimed because of his circumstances. He says, “What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice” (Philippians 1:18).
- Have you had a situation in your life that in the moment you wished wasn’t happening, but now, looking back, you can see clearly how God was at work?
- Paul’s life inspired confidence and boldness in other believers. Who do you look to for inspiration? How can you be a similar example to others?
- Paul is able to “rejoice” when the Gospel is proclaimed, even when he doesn’t completely approve of the motives of those proclaiming it. Where do you see this in your life? Are you able to look past flaws and different preferences of others in order to celebrate when the Gospel is being proclaimed?
Think about the next 24 hours of your life, where you will be going and who you will likely interact with. Take a moment to pray for the people you expect to encounter. Think about a way you can engage at least one person in a conversation on a different, perhaps deeper, level than you’ve done in the past.