STUDY 3: PHILIPPIANS 1:12 – 30

© Rosemary Bardsley 2020

In this section of the letter Paul writes optimistically about his imprisonment, his future and the Philippian believers.

A. PAUL’S OPTIMISM ABOUT HIS IMPRISONMENT

Read 1:12 – 18a. What are the results or impacts of his imprisonment?
In verse 12:

 

In verse 13:

 

In verse 14:

 

In verse 18:

 

Paul is in chains ‘for Christ’, ‘for the defence of the gospel’ (verses 13, 16). This imprisonment has had several results, all of which are in one way or another, connected to the proclamation of the gospel.

It has, Paul says, ‘really served to advance the gospel’ (verse 12). It has not silenced the gospel, as Paul’s antagonists had doubtless hoped. Rather, it has resulted in the gospel being taught and preached even more than Paul himself could have done.

‘The whole palace guard and everyone else’ have a very clear understanding of why Paul is in chains – it is ‘for Christ’ (verse 13). They knew, from what they overheard of his teaching as they guarded him shift after shift, that Paul was no ordinary criminal. Paul, a Roman citizen, was here under constant guard because of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Rather than shutting Paul up, his imprisonment gave him a platform from which to make Christ known to people who would not otherwise have heard it.

[Note that Paul had a long-standing desire to preach the Gospel in Rome (see Romans 1:8 – 13), and that he had been told by the Lord that he would indeed do so (Acts 23:11). Both Paul’s desire and Christ’s purpose were thus being fulfilled.]

A further result was that, rather than being discouraged and silenced by Paul’s imprisonment, ‘most of the brothers in the Lord’ were encouraged, stirred up to ‘speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly’ (verse 14). Rather than shutting up one man, Paul’s imprisonment has opened the mouths of most of the Christian’s in Rome.

While Paul acknowledges that some of them preach ‘out of envy and rivalry’ and ‘selfish ambition’, trying even to stir up trouble for Paul, he is not really concerned about this. ‘What does it matter?’ he asks. The important thing is ‘Christ is preached’ regardless of the motives of the messengers.

From these verses we see that Paul’s overwhelmingly dominant concern is that the gospel of Jesus Christ is preached. Whether he is free or in chains, whether those preaching have good motives or bad motives, his concern is that Christ be preached.

Notice how Paul refers to the Christian message:

[1] It is ‘the gospel’, that is the good news (verses 12, 16).

[2] It is ‘the word of God’ (verse 14). By this reference Paul identifies both the source and the authority of the gospel. He also by this phrase refers to the truth that the gospel of Jesus Christ is the goal and fulfilment of the Old Testament scriptures. From Genesis to Malachi they point us to the eternal plan of God to redeem the lost through the promised Saviour.

To research this concept read John 5:39, 46, 47; Luke 24:26, 27, 44 – 46.

 

 

 

[3] It is, simply, ‘Christ’ (verses 15, 17, 18), because Jesus Christ – who he is, and what he did – is the whole content of the gospel.

Check out these verses in which Paul refers to this focus of the gospel on Jesus Christ:
1Corinthians 1:23

 

1Corinthians 2:2

 

Galatians 1:16

 

Galatians 3:1

 

Colossians 1:28

 

Colossians 2:2, 3

 

Because Christ is preached, Paul rejoices (verse 18a), regardless of his circumstances, regardless of the hurtful attitudes of some whom he calls ‘brothers’. The significance of Christ surpasses the significance of all else. If Christ is preached, that is enough. That is all that ultimately matters.

For reflection:
Paul’s love for Christ, and for the gospel of Christ, dominated his life. His concern for the honour of Christ’s name and the proclamation of Christ was more important to him than his physical comfort, his freedom, and the ill-intentions of jealous people towards him.

How difficult is it today for you to hold Christ and the gospel in such high esteem?

 

To what extent are you able rejoice in Christ, and in the fact that his message is being proclaimed, even when your circumstances are difficult?

 

What changes are needed in your thinking to come to the place where Christ is the one thing that ultimately matters, the one thing that makes you rejoice, regardless of life’s difficulties and life’s negatives?

 

B. PAUL’S OPTIMISM ABOUT HIS FUTURE

In Philippians 1:18b – 26 Paul engages in a debate with himself about his future. He doesn’t know what is going to happen – whether he will live or whether he will die; whether he will be released, or whether he will be executed.

Nor does he know what he really wants – to live and thus continue to serve the Philippians, or to die and be with Christ.

 

Read 1:18b – 26. Answer these questions:
What does Paul say about these two alternatives?
Being executed:

 

 

Being released:

 

 

Why did he think that he would be released?

 

 

How would you feel faced with these two alternatives? Explain your answer.

 

 

B.1 Two loves, two certainties, one desire
Paul was caught between two loves: his love for Christ and his love for the Philippians.

His love for Christ meant that to ‘die is gain’, ‘to be with Christ, which is better by far’.

His love for the Philippians meant that for him to be released and to live, ‘is more necessary’ because he knew that there was still a lot of ‘fruitful labour’ that he could do among them and others. For their spiritual progress and joy in the faith it was better for him to remain with them.

And at this point his two loves merge: his love for the Philippian believers is an expression of his love for Christ.

Because he loves Christ, he loves the Philippians.

Because he seeks Christ’s honour he wants to have ministry among the Philippians so that their faith in Christ will grow.

And so he believes that he will be released:

Through the Philippians’ prayer (1:19).
Through the help given by the Spirit of Jesus Christ (1:19).
Because of his conviction that his release is better for the Philippians (1:24 – 26).

 

Although he believed that this would happen, he was not one hundred percent sure. His immediate future was uncertain.

But there were two things that were certain:

[1] That for him ‘to live is Christ’. We have already seen Paul’s commitment to Christ. Now we see in these four words that Christ was at the very centre of his life. His life was focused on Christ. From Christ he gained his identity, his meaning, his purpose. As we study further in Philippians we will also find that in Christ alone was Paul’s salvation, his acquittal, his ‘righteousness’, in the presence of God. In Christ alone he boasted, rejoiced and gloried.

[2] That to die was to be immediately with the Lord. To ‘depart’ is to ‘be with Christ’. There is no thought here of ‘soul sleep’ – of an extended period of unconsciousness between physical death and the physical resurrection at the last day when Christ returns. No. Paul knows that physical death means to be immediately present with Christ.

This belief that he would be immediately with Christ when he died is consistent with his teaching elsewhere that those who believe in Christ are already, while still physically alive, spiritually ‘with Christ’ in the heavenly realms.

Check these verses. What do they teach about our present union with Christ who at this moment is seated at the right hand of God?
Ephesians 2:4 – 7

 

Colossians 3:1 – 4

 

1Thessalonians 4:14

 

Paul was certain that physical death does not separate a believer from Christ in an extended non-contact period of soul-sleep. Rather, physical death removes all the unavoidable and temporary separation/distance that is part and parcel of the life of the believer in a physical body prone to sin and suffering (Read 2Corinthians 5:1 – 9). To be ‘at home in the body’ is to be ‘away from the Lord.’ Conversely, to be ‘away from the body’ is to be ‘at home with the Lord.’

In the context of these two loves and these two certainties, Paul has one desire that expresses both loves and both certainties:

‘... that I ... will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death’ (1:20).

This parallels his prayer for the Philippians in 1:11 that they would be ‘to the glory and praise of God’. So here again we are challenged by this goal: that regardless of our circumstances Christ will be exalted in our bodies by the way we live and by the way we die.

 

For reflection:
How different is this Christ-centred goal from the goals that are pursued by those around you - the pursuit of wealth, the pursuit of health, the pursuit of body image, the pursuit of fame, the pursuit of pleasure, the pursuit of power?

 

In what way do these common pursuits interfere with the goal of exalting Christ?

 

C. PAUL’S OPTIMISM ABOUT THE PHILIPPIANS

Philippians 1 is filled with Paul’s optimism regarding the Philippians:

He thanks God every time he thinks about them (1:3).
He prays for them with joy (1:4).
He is confident that God will complete his work in them (1:6).
They partner with him in the gospel and share with him in God’s grace (1:5, 7).
He fully expects that they will live to the glory and praise of God (1:9 – 11).

Having explained to them how good is coming from his imprisonment (1:12 – 18), and having expressed his expectation of being released so that he can have further input into their faith (1:19 – 26), he now gives the only command in this chapter:

‘Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ’ (1:27a).

 

For discussion/refelction:

What does Paul mean by each of these phrases?
Whatever happens ...

...conduct yourselves ...

... in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ?

 

Suggest why Paul gives this command.

 

Suggest what attitudes, words and actions are ‘worthy of the gospel’.

 

Suggest what attitudes, words and actions are not ‘worthy of the gospel’.

 

Carefully consider what changes obeying this command would require in your life.

 

Assuming that his friends in Philippi will obey his command, he again expresses his optimism about them (1:27b – 30).

Answer these questions about these verses:
How does he express his optimism? (1:27b)

 

What were their circumstances which would make living for Christ a challenge? (1:28 -30)

 

How would your faith respond in such circumstances?