PHILIPPIANS, Part 4

The Value of Adversity

Philippians 1:12—18

Paul had just spent 11 verses encouraging his good friends in the church at Philippi.  His words must have been welcomed, for this church experienced its share of hard times.  From poverty to persecution, the Philippians knew all about adversity.  According to Dictionary.com, here is what the word “adversity” means:

adverse fortune or fate; a condition marked by misfortune, calamity, or distress

That’s probably how most people would define “adversity.”  The problem, that’s not necessary how God would define the word.  In fact, given the abundance of teaching in the Bible, it seems clear that “adversity,” as it relates to God’s people, is something quite different than what Dictionry.com says it is.

“Adversity” is something most of us have experienced to varying degrees over the course of our lives.  And even though it is a universal experience, and we are able to articulate what our particular “adversity” is, we don’t understand it.  “Adversity” is complex, and so Paul, in this next group of verses, helps us understand the true nature of all adversity.

1.  Setting the record straight, 1:12a

We don’t often think of Paul as being Mr. Sunshine, but here was a man who wrote almost poetically about the joy that is the ever-present possession of all believers.  Even though he was deadly serious when it came to matters of theology, doctrine, and church practice, Paul was a man filled joy no matter where he was.  For now, he once again found himself in a Roman prison, writing this letter.  Being the always joyful servant of Christ, Paul was also an Optimistic prisoner.

His plight was evidently known to the Philippians, and while Paul was optimistic despite his current circumstances, and while he knew without a doubt that the Christ he was willingly serving would take care of him, the Philippians did not share his optimism, either about himself or themselves.  So, he set the record straight:

Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters…

That is one of Paul’s favorite phrases that he often used in his writing to introduce an important statement and /or correct a widespread misunderstanding over some matter.  In this instance, Paul’s imprisonment was the important, misunderstood matter.   Obviously there was some anxiety in the church over Paul’s imprisonment.  Was he hurting?  Was he able to continue his work?  Would they ever see him again?  We can only imagine the range of emotions the congregation was experiencing over what was happening to Paul.

2.            The gospel advances regardless, 1:12b—13

In addressing their concerns, it is remarkable that Paul begins by reassuring them that his work continues despite his imprisonment.  Karl Barth’s statement sums it up:

Paul’s commitment to the gospel is so complete that he cannot explain how it is with him without stating how it is with the gospel.

In Acts 28, Dr. Luke gives us a glimpse into how things were going with Paul during this period of imprisonment.  Although he was being guarded constantly, he was permitted to live under a kind of house arrest in what was probably a rented house.  He could have visitors, who were free to come and go as they pleased, and apparently he was able to continue his evangelistic ministry unhindered by his imprisonment.

…what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. (verse 12b)

In fact, in Paul’s opinion, his imprisonment became a vehicle to advance the Gospel!   The use of the word mallon (“rather,” KJV) suggests that the Philippians were expecting bad news from Paul, not this good news.  But as is always the case, nothing can stop the progress of the Gospel.  It’s unfortunate that so many Christians don’t understand this; they react to adverse circumstances with fear and cowardice, rather than optimism.

Just a glance at many of the personalities throughout the Bible show us that God always acted in amazing ways through people in adverse circumstances:

  • Joseph, cast into a pit by his jealous brothers, ends up the second-most powerful man in Egypt, leading to the preservation of the nation of Israel;
  • Job lost his family, his possessions, and his health, but found a deeper insight into the mysteries of God and His wisdom than he ever had before;
  • Jeremiah, cast into a well, suffering a myriad of afflictions, was able to coin the phrase that has comforted man for thousands of years:  “Great is thy faithfulness”;
  • Jesus Christ, Himself suffering and dying won victory of Satan, sin, and death;
  • Peter and John, while in prison, became bolder than ever in their evangelistic efforts;
  • The early church, broken up and scattered all over the world, was able to grow and multiply exponentially thanks to that persecution.

You can’t keep the Gospel a secret if you are committed to it.  It is a force of nature:  God’s Nature!

We know from Ephesians 6, written during this same period of incarceration shortly before Philippians, Paul referred to himself as an “ambassador in chains.”  For at least part of his imprisonment, a guard was chained to Paul night and day.  Imagine this:  with every change of this guard came a new opportunity to share the Gospel and witness for Christ!  How many guards heard the Gospel and how man responded to it during this two-year period of Paul’s life?

It was from his personal experiences that Paul could tell young Timothy:

God’s word is not chained.  (2 Timothy 2:9)

And so the Word of God spread, thanks to Paul’s commitment to it, throughout the household of Caesar, no less!  It’s amazing what happens a believer is sold out to Christ, and passionate about His Word.

3.  Influence beyond the prison, 1:14

And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.

Who were these other “brothers and sisters?”  Undoubtedly they were believers in Rome.  Years ago, a church had been built and established in Rome, the “belly of the beast,” made up mostly of Gentile converts.  According to Acts 28, when Paul finally reached Rome, he preached, not to Gentiles, but to Jews, and some believed while others did not.  The Jews who converted established their own churches in Rome and now, both Gentile believers and Jewish believers came to visit Paul during his imprisonment.

What was the result of their visiting Paul together?  They had been evangelizing in and around Rome already, but after seeing Paul’s example, they were emboldened to do even more work for the Kingdom, despite their circumstances!  It was Paul’s courage that made the timid Romans courageous.  Sometimes, that’s all people need to come out of their shells!

4.  Nothing more important than preaching Christ, 1:15—18

This new-found courage to proclaim the Gospel caused some problems.  Not all the “preachers” in Rome were doing so for the highest motives.

It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill.  The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel.  The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains.  (verses 15—17)

We don’t know who these preachers were, and opinion is divided.  Some see Judaizers, others see rivals and opponents of Paul’s, taking advantage of Paul’s imprisonment to advance their own agendas.  It seems likely that Paul is simply referring men who were selfish and self-centered in their preaching.  Their aim was not to exalt Christ, but to advance their own interests.  These men were “careerists,” seeking to enlarge their base of followers by causing problems within the church at Rome.  They were self-promoters, not proclaimers of the Gospel.  That’s not to say they didn’t preach the facts of the Gospel or the reality of Christ and the faith; but they did so for the wrong reasons.  They were not false teachers teaching false doctrines; they were men using the Gospel as a tool to push their agendas on other believes.

The Church of Jesus Christ is full of preachers like that even today.  When we look at the current debates various denominations are having, like the condoning of and ordination of homosexuals, we have to concede that many who are pushing such atrocities are doing so, not to advance the Gospel, but their own sick agendas.

What does Paul say about the questionable preachers of his day?

But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. (verse 18)

The phrase, “what does it matter” may be rendered, “what really matters.”  Perhaps this verse more than any other reveals the Apostle’s sense of values.  There are those who were preaching out of pretense, insincerely, and there are those like Paul, preaching solely to advance the Gospel.  Their purpose in preaching stood in complete distinction to Paul’s, even though the essence of their preaching was the same as his.  But Paul’s main concern was not the motivation of those other preachers, but rather the continued promulgation of the Gospel.

That’s not to say that he was condoning the idea of preaching for cash or for other lesser reasons, but Paul’s agenda at this time did not include straightening out other preachers.  His agenda while in prison was exactly the same as it was when he was free:  making sure as many people heard the Gospel as possible!

The question is always raised, can preaching that comes from insincere people do any good for the Kingdom of God?  The answer is a resounding YES!  First, it is the Word that convicts sinners and changes lives, not the preacher.  Second, and most obvious, those people listening to these other preachers probably did not know what Paul knew; as far as they were concerned, they were hearing a preacher just like Paul!  They don’t see the lesser or wrong motive.  What matters in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, is that Christ is proclaimed.  And in this, Paul rejoiced.

The all-encompassing passion of Paul’s life was the Gospel; or more accurately the furtherance of the Gospel.  So instead of spending time being all bent-out-of-shape with these wacky preachers, Paul chose to dwell on the good that was being accomplished:  the proclamation of Jesus Christ.  The truth of God’s Word is more powerful, more influential, and bigger than any preacher.

Here we see an optimistic man; still passionate about Christ, still passionate about the Word of God, finding ways to continue his work even in prison, yet taking time to encourage others.

(c)  2010, WitzEnd
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