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Gospel In Chains

Philippians 1:12-26

In our never ending quest to substitute respectability for righteousness, we might sometimes wonder how the church could put up with a preacher who spent as much time in jail as Paul did. Perhaps we might see things differently if we looked at it from his point of view.

Providence of God

(Phil 1:12-14 NIV) Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. {13} As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. {14} Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.

Paul relieves their minds

We must remember that Paul is not defending his conduct here. He is relieving the minds of his friends. He's telling them that things are fine, in fact better than that. Now, we might ask how a man who's chained up to a soldier all day and night could see things quite that way. But we would be looking at if from the point of view of our comfort. Paul is looking at it from the point of view of spreading the Gospel. So he has good news for them:

  • The team is winning the game! That is, the Gospel is being spread, and this despite all the worst the enemy can do.
  • Moreover, I personally am doing well in the game - people I could otherwise never reach are listening.
Principle of "moral judo"

We might think that Paul's in a bad spot. He doesn't see it that way at all. Let's take this step by step:

  • Paul is in chains. But that means he's chained to a member of the Praetorian Guard. In other words, from Paul's view, his audience is chained to him and has to listen!
  • The guards, moreover, have had plenty of time to discover his character and his supposed "crime." They know he's in here for the sake of the Gospel; they know he could have given it up and freed himself. That is going to drive some curiosity.
  • So he gets to preach the Gospel to a bunch of people who would ordinarily not be reachable.
  • And they begin spreading it throughout the palace!

Satan has used his most powerful weapon - the power of the state - and God has used this against him.


If that were not enough, the comfortable folks back in the pews at Rome - who, if you will recall, did not know Paul personally before he arrived - are now taking heart at his example. They figure, "Hey, if he can do it in chains, we can do it out here."

False and True Motives

Satan's attack on the outside having backfired, he will try the inside approach. We now see the factions of the church at work:

(Phil 1:15-18 NIV) It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. {16} The latter do so in love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. {17} The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. {18} 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. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice,

Why would they do that?

Why is it that some people would work against Paul this way?

  • There is a question of faction. Paul didn't start the church at Rome, and "not invented here" is always a strong feeling.
  • Selfish ambition is another reason. Somebody always wants to be Mr. Number One.
  • A third reason is spite. Paul is a rather cantankerous fellow, and given to straightening people out. He may simply have made a few enemies.
  • In the Greek the phrase translated here as "not sincerely" really means "with mixed motives." For some, they may have wanted to preach the Gospel - and also be mad at Paul at the same time.
Why doesn't Paul care?

So what's wrong with Paul? Why doesn't he stand forth and let these people have it like they so richly deserve? There are several reasons, and they have relevance to church arguments today.

  • First, there is the principle that "whoever is not against me is for me." Our Lord enunciated that, and Paul probably knows it well.
  • Paul cares for the objective - the spread of the Gospel - and not his reputation. You can accomplish an awful lot if you don't care who gets the credit.
  • Besides, who's perfect? Paul certainly wasn't. Maybe this isn't as big a deal as it might seem.
  • Finally, there is the possibility of reform. Maybe their motives are not pure today, but it's tough to proclaim Christ and not meet Him. I know a Bible teacher who went through that.

Note the effect: by refusing to care about it, Paul has given a powerful lift to the unity of the church. But shouldn't he care? Shouldn't he straighten these people out? Perhaps not:

  • Maybe some of these people are genuine heretics. So? By their fruits you will know them. They can't disguise it forever.
  • Even for those who aren't, there is this: they, like Paul, stand or fall before their master, Jesus Christ. We need not judge.
How can I live like that?

This, despite its circumstances, is a rather carefree existence? It's as if nothing bothers Paul - in a circumstance where we would be very bothered indeed. How can this be?

  • It is a question of objective - the wide or the narrow road. If your objective is success in the stock market, this is not good. If your objective is the kingdom of God, things look different.
  • It is a question of expectations - if you expect a life of comfort, this is very disappointing. If you expect a life of adventure, this is about what you had in mind.

Some of us set our objectives too low and our expectations too high.

Magnifying Christ

In all this, Paul has one principle: in life or death, he will exalt Christ.

(Phil 1:19-26 NIV) for I know that through your prayers and the help given by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. {20} I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. {21} For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. {22} If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! {23} I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; {24} but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. {25} Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, {26} so that through my being with you again your joy in Christ Jesus will overflow on account of me.

In life

How does Paul exalt Christ in his life, especially under these circumstances?

  • He refuses to be ashamed. Think of it this way: what causes you to feel ashamed? Is it not that you had hopes for your conduct, and your courage was not sufficient to carry out those hopes? But Paul gives us the secret here. His hope is in Christ, not himself. So his hopes cannot be betrayed. His courage is also in Christ, and therefore it cannot fail.
  • He exalts Christ in the fruit of his life. Despite his circumstances - indeed, because of them - he is bearing fruit for the Gospel. People are coming to know the Lord Jesus as Lord and Savior because of his actions.
  • He exalts Christ in his care and service for others. What is Paul's concern in this letter? Is it not to thank, encourage and edify the Philippians? (As often as you've done it to the least of these…..)
In death

How can Paul possibly exalt Christ in his death?

  • First, because the manner of Paul's death may bring honor to Christ. Have you ever considered how a Christian dies? We so often see it as being fretful; those during the Diocletian persecution showed that they went to their deaths cheerfully - almost casually. Those deaths were in the form of horrible persecution and torture, and yet it seemed no big problem to the people of Christ. Were they crazy - or are we?
  • Next, because he knows that to die is to go to be with Christ. Which, when he talks about it, does sound distinctly superior to being chained up to a couple of soldiers who haven't bathed in a few months.
Challenges for us

In this short passage there are some challenges for the contemporary Christian:

  • Has the spirit of courage - or the spirit of fear - spread to me as a Christian? Am I ashamed of the Gospel?
  • Just what are my objectives in life? Am I going down the narrow road, or the wide one?
  • What are my expectations in life? To what do I think myself entitled? Should I?
  • What's my attitude toward death - and dying?
  • And what do all of these say about my faith? Are the answers I just gave evidence of my faith, or evidence of its lack?

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