But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel (Phil. 1:12).
The Apostle Paul is writing the letter to the Philippians whilst he is under house arrest. It is about 10 years after the Philippian jailor was saved in Acts 16. He wants to tell the believers what has happened to him but also help them with their Christian lives. He is realistic and he wants them to know that bad, uncomfortable and unpleasant things have happened to him. Paul does not tell us that every cloud will have a silver lining, rather his comfort is in knowing that the bad things that have happened to him have been used by God to further the gospel. The message of Jesus was advancing as a result of his imprisonment.
This is the mindset that Christians are to have. God brings sufferings into the lives of his people to advance the gospel: John Bunyan was put in prison and wrote Pilgrim’s Progress whilst he was there; Joni Eareckson Tada broke her neck as a teenager but has been a shining testimony to the grace of God from her wheelchair for the last 50 years. This is a comfort for us too. We may be in lockdown, housebound, very limited because of ill-health or have difficult work or family situations, but God is not limited and the gospel can spread to others around us as we trust in him. ‘The word of God is not chained’ (2 Tim. 2:9).
The progress of the gospel
In the following verses, Paul tells us how the gospel was spreading. Unbelievers were being reached. Paul was taken to Rome and so the gospel was taken to Rome too. More than that, Paul was chained between two Roman soldiers, but as Steven Lawson comments, ‘He had a new congregation with every change of shift!’ News spread that Paul was a prisoner because of his faith in Jesus (Phil. 1:13). The soldiers of Caesar’s palace heard the gospel and some of those who worked in the emperor’s house were converted (Phil. 4:22). Here is a wonderful example of the power of the gospel – the very things which we think would be a hindrance actually help to advance the cause of Christ!
The Scottish evangelist, Duncan Campbell, was a soldier in the battle of Amiens in 1918. Seriously wounded, he was taken to a casualty station. Believing that he was dying, he prayed the prayer of Robert Murray M’Cheyne: ‘Lord, make me as holy as it is possible for a saved sinner to be.’ A nurse began to sing in Gaelic, ‘There is a fountain filled with blood,’ and Campbell responded by saying Psalm 103. The presence of God filled the place and a number of wounded soldiers came under deep conviction of sin and trusted in Christ. God works in unusual and unexpected ways!
A bold witness
Seeing Paul’s willingness to suffer for the gospel stirred believers to speak with boldness. ‘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). The Lord can use the sufferings of believers to strengthen others in their faith and witness. When we hear of a young couple in Myanmar whose house is pelted with bricks every night, is your heart not stirred to boldness? Isaac Watts writes:
Must I be carried to the skies
On flowery beds of ease,
While others fought to win the prize
And sailed through bloody seas?
During these days, we need wisdom in our witness but we also need this boldness that comes from God. Are you praying for it for yourself and for other believers?
Christ is proclaimed
In Charles Wesley’s hymn, Jesus, the name high over all, the last verse says:
Happy, if with my latest breath
I may but gasp His name:
Preach Him to all, and cry in death,
‘Behold, behold the Lamb!’
It was the greatest desire of Paul’s life too that Jesus be made known. This is seen in Philippians 1:15-18.
Some indeed preach Christ even from 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 defence of the gospel. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretence or in truth, Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice.
Here Paul speaks about two groups. Some were preaching Christ out of envy, strife and selfish ambition desiring to ‘rub salt’ in Paul’s wounds. These were not false teachers, but they were preaching Christ with very bad motives. This is a warning to us. When we speak about the Lord do we do it for selfish reasons? Do we sometimes just want to win the argument and feel good? Others preached Christ out of goodwill, standing with Paul and defending the gospel.
We should not preach or witness for selfish reasons, or to build our own little empire, but for God’s glory alone. When George Whitefield was urged by some to defend his name from false allegations, here are some of the things he said:
Let the name of Whitefield perish, but Christ be glorified. Let my name die everywhere, let even my friends forget me, if by that means the cause of the blessed Jesus may be promoted. I am content to wait till the judgment day for the clearing up of my reputation; and after I am dead I desire no other epitaph than this, ‘Here lies G.W. What sort of man he was, the great day will discover.’
‘What then?’ Paul asks in verse 18. The group motivated by envy supposed that they would ‘add affliction’ to Paul’s chains, but Paul does not stoop to their level. He is so Christ-focused that he is happy in the knowledge that Jesus is being made known. His joy is truly in the Lord, whatever others are saying about him. He is in chains physically and yet he is free! ‘In this I rejoice and will rejoice.’
May the Lord give to us understanding minds, compassionate hearts, sincere motives and deep joy in the Lord Jesus Christ.
May His beauty rest upon me
As I seek the lost to win,
And may they forget the channel
Seeing only Him.