Philippians 1:12-18

Philippians 1:12-18e

The Advancement of the Gospel Through Christ-Centered Suffering

What does it mean to be a Christian?  I am afraid that we have lost the sense of the title in America.  We are far too comfortable in our homes, at our jobs, in our freedoms.  We have never known what it means to live from day to day under the constant threat of persecution and suffering for the sake of Christ.  We are so disassociated from the suffering of Christ Himself that I wonder if we really know Him at all?  

The Gospel of Christ did not come to you on a silver platter; the Gospel of Christ came to you through the blood of saints who defended and confirmed the Gospel through the ages.  What power is there in the name of Christ that men would murder other men because of it?  What power is there in the name of Christ that those who died because of it, first, endured intense suffering because of it?

If we ever suffered persecution for the sake of Christ’s name, would we fall away from Him, or would we persevere in the midst of the suffering and share the Gospel with greater intensity?  The question is one of identification with Jesus Christ.  Our Lord suffered many things, and by the things He suffered He learned obedience.  When He was taken by men, imprisoned and crucified, He yet endured the shame of the cross because of the joy set before Him.  He was not a criminal; He was the Christ of God!

Paul identified with Jesus in His sufferings.  He wrote that he wanted to know Christ and the power of His resurrection, and that he might share in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, Philippians 3:10.

For Paul, knowing Christ was more than just sitting on the sidelines of a church pew.  To know Christ was to identify with Christ – even in His sufferings.  It was to make Christ known regardless of circumstance.  Paul was so associated with Christ in His sufferings, that Paul wrote to the Galatian church, “I bear on my body the marks of Jesus,” 6:17.

Do you view every circumstance as an opportunity to advance the Gospel of Jesus Christ?  Have you considered the cost of following Christ?  Hopefully, tonight, you will consider that cost, and count the eternal gain of an all-consuming Godwardness worthy of your life’s greatest affection.

Tonight, I’d like to address four aspects found in our text.  

Paul’s Perspective – What had happened “to” Paul was no match for what had happened “in” Paul (v. 12).

Paul’s Prowess – Every circumstance is an opportunity to advance the Gospel (vv. 13-14).

Paul’s Passion – The proclamation of Christ (vv. 15-18d).

Paul’s Praise – God uses the message in spite of the messenger (v. 18e).

First, Paul’s perspective: what had happened “to” Paul was no match for what had happened “in” Paul.  

It appears that the Philippians were anxious to know what had become of Paul in prison, and how they ought to respond themselves in the midst of their own suffering.  How was Paul dealing with his imprisonment?  So he writes, “I want you to know, brothers…,” which immediately prepares us for something extremely important, something that we need to give careful attention to because it is going to impart a Christ-like perspective, and this is it – that what had happened “to” Paul was no match for what had happened “in” Paul.

The salvation of God is a thing that happens “to” a person, but more than that it is a work of God “in” the person.  If we return to v. 6, we find Paul writing, “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”  If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation; the old has passed away, and the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17).  And where this salvation has occurred in the sinner, so a power has been given to them, that no matter what happens to them for the sake of Christ, they will endure it with joy in that name.  And due to this work being done in us, we have new tastes, new desires, new passions and pursuits, new perspectives, new loves, etc.

For Paul, knowing Christ meant something entirely different than its contemporary conception.  To know Christ meant more than sitting on the sidelines, more than praying a prayer or walking an aisle or being baptized or anything else like that.  Those things are good in their place but they cannot be substituted for those fruits of truly knowing Christ.  Paul wrote that he truly wanted to know Christ, and that that knowing of Christ included the tasting of the power of His resurrection and a sharing in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, that by any means possible he might attain the resurrection from the dead.  This is worthy of our attention!  To know Christ included the sharing in His sufferings.  It must have been an unthinkable thing to Paul for one to say that they knew Christ and yet that they were not willing to die for the sake of His name and the advancement of the Gospel.  No, friends, to know Christ, if we know Him, is to share in His sufferings.  The apostle so shared in Christ’s sufferings, that he would write to the Galatians to “let no one cause me trouble (concerning my apostleship), for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus,” 6:17.  Check out his laundry list of sufferings in 2 Corinthians 11.  

To Paul, if you confessed Christ as Lord you were signing your temporal life away.  Listen, beloved, to believe in Christ is to die a particular death to the world.  This is why Christ said that if we were to follow Him, then let us take up our cross daily and so follow Him.  If you take the name of Christ, then you are dead – dead!  You have been crucified with Christ!  In Paul’s mind, the “in” and the “to” are inseparably linked as he writes, “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in Him but also suffer for His sake,” Philippians 1:29.  Have you considered the cost of following Christ?  Our Lord spoke of the one who sought to build without considering the cost of building, so that once he had begun he had nothing left to finish with; Christ proves the folly of such a man.  Beloved, to follow Christ, to know Christ will cost you your life.  Oh, but what a life do we gain!  

What power is there in this Gospel of Christ, that when it exists within a man, a man may endure all tortures for the sake of it?  It is said of John Huss, for example, that upon his standing firm upon the headship of Jesus Christ over His church in spite of the Roman popery, that he was fastened to a stake and burned, but that while the flames engulfed him he was heard reciting the Psalms.  Within the course of this hour, men and women and children will be martyred because they confess Jesus Christ!  I am afraid that we in America know nothing of what it means to know Christ, for only in America are we damningly safe from persecution for the sake of that name.  Nowhere else in the world are Christians free in the sense of our American freedom from persecution and suffering and martyrdom for Christ.  Beloved, to believe in Christ is to suffer for His sake.  To know Christ is to lose your life for His Gospel.  

But Paul writes, “what has happened to me has really served to advance the Gospel.”  From the perspective of Paul, Christian suffering is servant to Christ Himself, for by it the Gospel advances.

2.  Paul’s Prowess – Every circumstance is an opportunity to advance the Gospel (vv. 13-14). 

We need to ask the question that the text leads us to ask which is “How did the Gospel advance?”

Paul, going throughout the city proclaiming the Gospel to everyone, speaking of God and His Christ, giving glory to Him preeminently rather than Caesar, stirring up the people and seeing God convert them to Christianity, was therefore confined by those who sought to thwart his attempts and restore the pagan order.  In confining Paul they sought to confine the Gospel.  It is a providential thing that God often makes the most of His glory when we have come to our human end or met our human limitations, or had human limitations imposed upon us.  For although they sought to confine Paul and the Gospel that he proclaimed, God extended to him an extraordinary grace to understand that every circumstance – ideal or not so ideal – is an opportunity to advance the Gospel.

Paul was set under the imperial guard.  The imperial guard was made up of nine thousand handpicked soldiers who would be chained to the prisoners under their attendance.  The apostle immediately recognized the opportunity that God had given to him.  He was able to preach the Gospel to men who would normally be out of the public view, attached to prisoners.  Moreover, Paul was in a familiar situation.  This was not his first stay in prison.  He had actually been imprisoned in Philippi some time before, and what occurred there is enough to teach us that Paul would have been extremely confident in God’s purpose in advancing the Gospel (Acts 16:25-34).

It is an amazing grace of God that a man can endure the things that Paul endured and yet not be at all pitiable and depressed but the exact opposite – he sought nothing but to make Christ known.  It appears that the imperial guard and all the rest (whomever they were) initially thought Paul to be in prison because of some crime that he had committed.

However, we can only imagine the graces that the guards would have experienced in their nearness to Paul.  We can be sure that Paul preached the Gospel to them constantly, and we may infer that they witnessed his own personal devotion to Christ, conversations with other prisoners, conversations with other Christians who had come to attend to his needs while imprisoned, and many other God exalting things.  This is truly an amazing prowess!  I write prowess because it seems to me that Paul was always on the prowl, seeking out sinners in order to pounce on them with the Gospel of Christ.  Every circumstance was to him an opportunity to advance the Gospel!

By his Gospel prowess and Christ-centered suffering the Gospel advanced through two groups of people.  It advanced through the “whole imperial guard.”  It became known to the whole imperial guard – nine thousand men – and “to all the rest” that Paul’s imprisonment was not due to a crime that he had committed but was, in fact, for Christ.  Simply, he was not in prison for being a criminal but for being a Christian, and for proclaiming the Christ of God.  They sought to confine the Gospel, but they underestimated the power and reality of the Gospel in a man, the grace of God, and the commitment of God to Himself to advance His Gospel.  And so, more than nine thousand heathen came to know the innocence of Paul and at least by knowledge the Christ whom he preached!

But it also emboldened the church at Rome, the believers their, to “speak the word without fear.”  In other words, by the example that Paul set, of a real Christian who would suffer and even die for the sake of Christ, who so passionately sought out the salvation of sinners, who so unswervingly preached the Gospel of Christ, the believers in Rome became “much more bold to speak the word without fear.”  They became what we ought to become – conqueringly passionate for the advancement of the Gospel!  They became courageous and the fear that choked their words formerly now lost its grasp upon their throats.  They proclaimed the word of God!  It is key to note that they did this by two main illustrations, first, by Paul’s self-sacrifice and Christ-centeredness, and secondly, by setting the Lord before themselves, for Paul writes that they had become confident “in the Lord.”

What do I mean by “in the Lord?”  As they witnessed Paul, they witnessed an imitation of our Lord.  For as Paul was falsely accused as a criminal when it was really because he was a Christian, so our Lord was falsely accused, Pilate testifying to this and the thief beside our Lord on the cross also; Jesus was no criminal but rather the Christ!  Yet it was necessary for our Lord to suffer and die, for by it the Gospel was ratified.  So it seems that through the persecution of the brethren, God is pleased to conform us to His image and also to advance that Gospel.  Moreover, there is the abiding word of Chris that when we go with the Gospel that He will be with us, and as He is with us, we are never alone, and accompanied by His God-given authority over all things.  The believers in Rome, setting Christ before them then, had two options:  they could either devote themselves to the comfort of temporal life or devote themselves to the costly advancement of the Gospel, which results in eternal gain.  “In the Lord” they weighed the options and found it a greater thing to devote themselves to that advancement even at the cost of their temporal lives.  Amen.

Thus we see by the prowess of one, God was pleased to make His name known amongst the many unbelievers and to embolden to His church.  And now we have occasion to address Paul’s passion.

3.  Paul’s Passion – That Christ is proclaimed!

Now it appears to us that two types of preachers came to the forefront in Rome by the arrival and imprisonment of Paul.  One group of preachers preached “Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will.  The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the Gospel.  The former proclaim Christ out of rivalry, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment,” 1:15-17.

A church had begun in Rome prior to Paul’s arrival there.  Because of this there were certain preachers of acclaim in the city who were used to receiving all of the attention.  We can imagine that as they caught wind of Paul’s coming to them, that the attention shifted away from them to the great apostle.  Paul came with many spiritual victories, and physical scars to prove it.  He was an apostle of Jesus Christ.  He always seemed to escape the political powers that existed as hindrances to the advancement of the Gospel.  Moreover, God simply blessed him in remarkable ways.  Paul was of a high reputation, a man who had seen the third heaven, seeing things too wonderful to speak of, and he had lived.  Naturally, at his coming the Roman church turned their attentiveness to him.

Because of this it appears that some of those preachers in Rome became envious and even rivalrous towards Paul.  It is a reality worthy of noting that the message of these preachers was not the problem.  Paul does not come against them like those false teachers in Galatia who preached a “gospel contrary to the one we preached to you,” whereby he concludes, “let (them) be accursed,” Galatians 1:6-9.  

These preachers proclaimed Christ!  They preached the pure Gospel; their message was not flawed but faithful to Christ.  What then was the problem?  They preached Christ with wrong motives!  The message was pure but their motives were impure.  They preached Christ not to advance the Gospel or to advance the name of Christ or the glory of God in it, but they sought to advance their own name and to restore the attention to themselves that they had in former times prior to the arrival of Paul in Rome.  They were self-centered and not Christ-centered.  While Paul was in prison they sought out the opportunity to afflict him by advancing themselves.

But by the grace of God there was another group of preachers – those who not only were made bold to speak the word without fear but who also preached Christ from “good will” and “out of love, knowing that (Paul was) put (there) for the defense of the gospel,” 1:15-16.  These men, as we have mentioned, weighed themselves and their lives in the light of Christ and the advancement of the Gospel and devoted themselves to carry the name of Christ to all in Rome.  They had a genuine desire to share the Gospel with others.  They became bold in the face of persecution.  They witnessed out of love for Christ and love for Paul who suffered for His sake.  In the end, they proclaimed Christ “in truth” (v. 18), that is, in Christ-centeredness seeking to advance the Gospel at all costs.

In v. 18, we have Paul’s concluding quandary and his passionate solvent of it.  He writes, “What then?”  That is, what do I conclude about the motives of these preachers?  “Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed.”  In other words, he lays aside at least for now the motives of the preachers themselves and gives precedence to the message.  It is a gracious thing that God will use men with impure motives and, by them, advance His pure Gospel.  It is certain that God will attend to our motives, but for Paul the thing that he was most attentive to and most passionate about was that Christ is proclaimed, because where Christ is proclaimed sinners are saved by the work of God.  So long as men are brought low by the acknowledgement of their personal sin against God; so long as men are threatened by the reality of the eternity of hell; so long as men are offered the grace of God in the sinless life, substitutionary death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ; so long as the invitation goes out to come to the Christ of God through faith in Him alone, then Paul is satisfied!  This is the great passion of Paul – that Christ is proclaimed, and so it should be ours as well!

4.  Paul’s Praise – Rejoice that Christ is proclaimed! (v. 18e)

What an example God has given us in Paul who, himself, imitated our Lord!  Paul kept an eternal perspective of Gospel advancement; he maintained his prowess towards outsiders, always seeking to share the Gospel with them and to speak with them of Jesus Christ; and his primary passion was that Christ be proclaimed!  What an amazing power this new creation of God in Christ!  Paul sat in prison, chains on his wrists, shackles around his feet, bearing the scars of Jesus Christ, sandwiched between Roman guards at all times, afflicted by the self-centeredness of certain Roman preachers, but rather than speak out against them, or complain about his situation, or become pitiable and depressed, we find that he rejoiced!  He would not lower himself to indulge in his own fleshly grievances; he would not lower himself to the standard of those envious brothers; no, he rejoiced that Christ was proclaimed!  “What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.”  

I can almost hear the chains clanking together as the apostle lifts up his hands to God and before men and says with great affection for our Lord, “in that I rejoice!”  

Let us make it our endeavor to be of the mind of Paul who was of the mind of our Lord, that we would advance the Gospel at all costs, that we would proclaim Christ boldly, without fear, and in truth.  May we all be Christ-centered, desiring to know Christ, and rejoicing in the proclamation of His name amongst the nations.  Let us rejoice always in the Lord!  In Jesus’ name, amen.

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