In Philippians 1:12-18, Paul takes our mindset off our fleshly, earthly circumstances and places our focus on the spiritual and eternal.
When difficult times enter into our personal lives or into the lives of those we know, our flesh automatically wants to begin thinking about failure. Paul writes this section to assure the Philippians that, although he was in bondage, God’s work had not been hindered. There is no such thing as failure when a person is truly serving the Lord.
Paul wanted them to know that his imprisonment had helped to further the gospel rather than hinder it (vs. 12). The KJV words “fallen out” highlight that what should be bad has turned out for good instead. Paul certainly recognized that God works all things for good according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). Though Paul was prevented from traveling, establishing churches, evangelizing and teaching the crowds, the Lord’s work was not stopped.
One of the reasons to rejoice is that people knew Paul was in prison and were curious. Word was spreading and, as it did, the message was going forth, and the guards assigned to Paul heard the Gospel and passed it on to others (sincerely or insincerely).
In addition, other believers had gained confidence through Paul’s bondage and were standing up to proclaim God’s grace through Jesus Christ in Paul’s absence. History tells us that the times of greatest spiritual growth have been during times of difficulty (e.g., Great Depression, funerals, September 11th). During troubling times people are feeling vulnerable and cannot escape being faced with eternal matters and spiritual things. Paul’s imprisonment had, among some, become a rallying cry to speak forth the Gospel.
There were two ways Christ was being preached. First, the preferred way: out of love. As we mentioned, Paul’s dedication to the Gospel had served as an example to others who wanted to see God’s work continue and grow, to see others come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. Second, Christ was being preached from selfish motives. This may have included people who saw a selfish opportunity to benefit, from envy or rivalry or mockery. In some instances, the motive may have been trying to add even more burden to Paul’s imprisonment. Nevertheless, Paul was choosing to concentrate on the fact that the Gospel was going forth no matter what the personal motivations.
What do we do when circumstances are less than ideal? When finances fall short? When our health is failing? When jobs are scarce? When neighborhoods are violent? Paul would have been physically harmed if a guard had not intervened (Acts 21:32-32). Paul was now, at the moment he dictated the letter to Philippi, restrained in bondage. Yet, he chose to focus on how God was using it, concentrating on the fact that despite his discomfort in the flesh, the Word was not bound as he was.
What do we do when opposition is loud? Despite the childhood saying, “Stick and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” sticks and stones AND words hurt. We tend to do one of two things when persecutors arise: we shy away from that which is causing the opposition or we turn our attention to defending ourselves against those who oppose us. Paul could have mentioned names and warned against those who were selfishly taking advantage of his circumstances. Instead, he chose to rejoice that the Gospel was being told.
Paul is the example that when hard times come and opposition arises we rejoice in the Lord. We can’t do this if we become overly focused on what is going on around us. When the flesh wants to bemoan the circumstances and the opposition, God wants us to look up (Colossians 3:1-2). By being reminded of all we have in Christ, we recognize that the difficulties of this world are temporary, while the things of the Lord are eternal. It is in these times we experience that His “grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness.”
The book of Philippians is going to continue to lay forth a mindset of rejoicing. Today, you have a choice: let the circumstances around you depress you and your opposition define you, or rejoice in the Lord always.
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