Christ Is Preached – What Joy!
Read – Philippians 1:12-18
Key Verse – What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice (Philippians 1:18 NKJV).
Key Thought – Living with the gospel… the preaching of the gospel… at the center of our lives, brings joy.
Epaphroditus had come to Paul in prison, carrying support from the Christians in Philippi. This support no doubt included financial help. This support probably also included words of encouragement and concern.
It is somewhat implied in this passage that the Philippians were worried that Paul might be discouraged by his circumstances and imprisonment. He seems, here, to be responding to their concern.
But he was not discouraged, and in fact he was REJOICING, because God was advancing His gospel even in and through what Paul was going through.
It is also possible that what the Philippians feared was not his personal discouragement, but rather the gospel being hindered by his imprisonment. That concern, too, he shot down in this passage. The gospel was not spreading LESS because of his imprisonment, but rather MORE. Amazing.
Let us notice from these 7 verses, that Paul spoke of Gospel opportunity and Gospel influence. Notice that he made the point that not only is the gospel the thing, it is the ONLY thing.
(My circumstances, while not good, are furthering the gospel.)
Paul almost casually mentions his situation in vs. 12 in the little phrase the things which happened to me. Now by that, he was referring to the entirety of Acts 21-28, or the last 8 chapters of the book of Acts! He was referring to his being arrested in the temple, and his nearly being beaten to death in the ensuing riot. He was referring to his trials before the Sanhedrin. He was referring to the very real threat posed by a plot hatched by his enemies to murder him. He was referring to his trials before Felix and Festus and Agrippa, his appeal to be tried by Caesar, his difficult voyage to Rome ending in shipwreck, his 3 months shipwrecked on the island of Malta, his arrival in Rome and his current incarceration in Rome.
Paul wrote that all of these things… the things which happened to me were not hindrances to the gospel at all, but rather opportunities for the gospel to spread.
Paul at this time was imprisoned in a house, with a Roman guard chained to his wrist at all times. It was this palace guard that was hearing the gospel and partially responsible for spreading it! Imagine being chained to Paul’s wrist for an entire shift! The shifts changed every 6 hours, so that gave Paul contact with 4 guards every 24 hours. These guards were a very special group of men. They were the palace guard, which was another way of referring to the Praetorian guard. Bob Utley describes them – “This elite group of soldiers was begun by Augustus but was finally concentrated in Rome by Tiberius. They (1) were all of the same rank, centurions; (2) received double pay; (3) had special privileges and (4) became so powerful that their choice for Emperor was always honored.” (Robert James Utley, “Paul Bound, the Gospel Unbound: Letters from Prison (Colossians, Ephesians and Philemon, Then Later, Philippians)”, vol. Volume 8, Study Guide Commentary Series (Marshall, TX: Bible Lessons International, 1997), 169.)
Think of it – Paul had access to and influence over these highly influential and powerful men, simply because he was chained to one of them 24 hours a day. Through them, he had access to the highest levels of Roman government and society. His imprisonment… his chains… his suffering… while seeming to silence him, actually caused his gospel message to spread even further! He described this amazing phenomenon in his letter to Timothy – I suffer trouble as an evildoer, even to the point of chains; but the word of God is not chained (2 Timothy 2:9 NKJV).
We see it throughout the New Testament – circumstances which to our eyes ought to hinder the spread of the gospel, actually set it ablaze.
Stephen was the first Christian martyr, and preached only one sermon of which we have record in Acts 7. It would seem to many that his suffering was for little, and that his ministry was terribly cut short, and yet Stephen’s one sermon reached the ear of Saul of Tarsus who just happened to be in the crowd that day. We often say that the apostle Paul, who was that Saul of Tarsus in that crowd, reached the known world for Christ. But the fact is, so too did Stephen, who reached Paul! God was advancing the gospel in a miraculous and completely unforeseen way as the stones rained down upon Stephen!
After Stephen’s martyrdom in Acts 7, that same Saul of Tarsus began a systematic and terrible persecution of the church in Jerusalem. The church at Jerusalem was broken up and scattered to the winds. Silenced, it would seem. But then there’s this – Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word. (Acts 8:4 NKJV).
(My circumstances have emboldened many to preach the gospel.)
“Paul’s confinement was doing what his circumstances outside of prison could never do.” (Robert P. Lightner, “Philippians,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 651.)
And when others saw how Paul was spreading the gospel even while imprisoned, it emboldened them to speak up and spread the gospel themselves.
It is no secret that many believers struggle to share their faith. It is undeniable that many are shy and afraid to witness. Yet, the example of those who are bold in their faith often emboldens even the shyest of witnesses, and that was happening here. They heard what Paul was enduring in prison, and it stirred them up. They saw and heard the amazing growth of the gospel throughout the Roman Empire… they heard even the palace guard talking about it… and they were encouraged by what God was doing through Paul’s struggle. It gave them confidence… it emboldened them… it encouraged them… it fired them up!
I have never been a strong witness for Christ. I say that to my shame, but it is true. There have been too many occasions when the Lord brought me into contact with someone, and I could sense the Holy Spirit prompting me to strike up a conversation, but I remained silent. From time to time, God brings me into contact with some other soul winner, though, who fires me up and encourages me to speak up. There was John Rutilli, a brother I was privileged to know when living and serving in New Jersey. John was a nondescript fellow. He didn’t speak with eloquence. He didn’t have a lot of great gifts, but he was a soul winner. He allowed no one to pass by without a gospel word. I recall a hospital visit with him once. He and I stepped into the elevator at the hospital, and just as the doors were closing, a woman stepped in with us. The doors closed and the elevator began to quietly climb. Silence. I could feel the tension as the Holy Spirit was prompting one of us to say something to this woman. I remained silent. Then I heard John Rutilli give a little cough and turn to the woman. He had a gospel tract in his hand, and asked her if he could give it to her. She smiled and said “yes”, the elevator doors opened, and we went on our way. I was ashamed of myself, but fired up by John! His example emboldened me and emboldens me to this day!
I’m reminded of the death of Boromir in Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings.” The feeble hobbits were looking on horrified as they watched arrow after arrow pierce the heroic Boromir’s body. Suddenly a rage washed over them and they unsheathed their swords with a shout and rushed screaming at the attacker. The struggle of Boromir’s emboldened them to join the fight!
Recently I read where several Christian youths were beheaded by ISIS because they would not renounce Christ. What does it do to your motivation to witness when you hear such things? Does it make you fear and silence your witness, or does something rise up within you that makes you want to witness all the more? Perhaps a little of both. Paul didn’t say all were emboldened, but rather most. Probably some were silenced by Paul’s imprisonment and their fear of similar treatment. But most were emboldened!
The persecution of the church has throughout its history resulted in the increase of the church! The early church theologian Tertullian is credited with saying that “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”
The Gospel is the thing.
Some preach the gospel from false motives, but who cares? They are preaching the gospel!
These verses are a source of confusion to many. Paul mentioned two groups of witnesses… two types of people who had been emboldened by his situation and were therefore preaching the gospel. One group preached from envy and strife (vs. 15)… from selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to (his) chains (vs. 16). The other group preached from goodwill (vs. 15)… out of love (vs. 17).
Who in the world were the guys in that first group? And what in the world was the matter with them?
Some have suggested that they were false teachers, perhaps the Judaizers Paul found himself standing up to throughout his ministry. But these were not false teachers, for Paul was content and rejoicing at the message they preached. Paul was mercilessly opposed at all times to false teaching, so they must have been doctrinally sound.
No, clearly, these were Christians who were preaching the gospel, but for some reason they were doing so from bad motives. Paul called them brethren in the Lord in vs. 14 and plainly stated that they preach Christ in vs. 16. For some reason they were at odds with and even enmity with Paul, and preached with the poor motive of trying to cause him some distress and pain, perhaps thinking he would be made jealous by their “success”? Perhaps these who preached from envy and strife were preaching for their own glory and advancement. They envied Paul’s success and following, and sought to take advantage of his imprisonment to draw away followers after themselves? Paul’s description of their selfish ambition in vs. 16 favors that thought.
I think this explanation is spot on:
William Hendriksen explains the first group in this way:
> > It should be borne in mind that there was a church in Rome long before Paul arrived there. It can scarcely be doubted, therefore, that certain preachers in Rome had attained a degree of prominence among the brothers. With the arrival of Paul and especially with the spreading of his fame throughout the city … it is easy to understand that these leaders were beginning to lose some of their former prestige. Their names were no longer mentioned so often. Hence, they became envious of Paul. Their motives in preaching Christ were not pure or unmixed.
> These men evidently saw the imprisonment of Paul as their opportunity to come to the forefront again. They went about their preaching, therefore, with renewed vigour and zeal.
> While Paul refuses to justify the envy of these men, he does take delight in the fact that they are vigorously preaching Christ. What a man this Paul is, even willing for others to speak ill of him if they would also speak well of Christ!(Roger Ellsworth, “Opening up Philippians” (Leominster: Day One Publications, 2004), 25–26.)
To Paul, the gospel was the thing!
The Gospel is EVERYTHING!
Regardless of motive, the gospel was being preached, and this brought Paul joy. The gospel is everything!
Some wanted their preaching to cause him distress, but it had the opposite effect, because to Paul, the gospel was everything!
So long as they were preaching Christ, Paul found joy in that preaching, because the gospel is everything.
Nothing else mattered. Paul’s heart was not in building a crowd, or a church. His heart was in spreading the gospel. The spread of the gospel was always at the center of Paul’s heart and ministry.
For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. (Romans 1:16 NKJV)Paul knew the gospel of Christ was the very power of God. It mattered not who preached it or how they preached it so long as they preached it, because once the power was not in the preacher but in the gospel truth preached.
Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you–unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time. (1 Corinthians 15:1-8 NKJV) I delivered to you FIRST OF ALL, the gospel. Some translations render that, “I delivered to you AS OF FIRST IMPORTANCE”, the gospel.
Nothing else mattered to Paul in that prison cell, and nothing else matters today. The gospel is EVERYTHING.
Allow me to share some thoughts on how we can apply this passage:
1. Just because we can’t see light at the end of the tunnel does not mean God has abandoned us.
Paul was in prison. He spent every minute of every day changed to a guard. Imagine the inconvenience… the unpleasantness… the humiliation of that. The Philippians were very concerned about him and thought he was in a bad way. But God was working!
How do you explain somebody like Joni Earickson Tada, who has spent her entire adult life in constant pain and confined to a wheelchair? If you only look at her suffering you might question why God would allow it, but if you look at how she has been so mightily used to spread the gospel from that wheelchair you can’t help but see God knew and knows exactly what He was doing in putting her there.
Some years ago I attended a series of meetings at New Milford Baptist Church (now Grace Church). The evangelist who spoke during those meetings was impaired in many ways. He walked only with great difficulty. He spoke with a very difficult to understand speech impediment. Yet God powerfully used him in my life, and I’m sure in others’ lives as well.
Elizabeth Elliot said, “I am not a theologian or a scholar, but I am very aware of the fact that pain is necessary to all of us. In my own life, I think I can honestly say that out of the deepest pain has come the strongest conviction of the presence of God and the love of God.”
“We cannot always trace the hand of God, but we can always trust the heart of God. His heart is devoted to working all things together for good for his people (Rom. 8:28).” (Roger Ellsworth, “Opening up Philippians” (Leominster: Day One Publications, 2004), 27.)
There are no accidents with God. God is never out of control. Nothing ever surprises God. What we think of as a setback is not such with God, for He is always working, even when it looks to us like He is not, to advance His gospel through us.
2. Wherever we are, we can be a witness.
“Paul’s example teaches us to view every situation in which we find ourselves as an opportunity for spreading the gospel. With this in mind, the Christian can, for example, see a hospital bed as a pulpit and the hospital as a mission field.” (Rom. 8:28).” (Roger Ellsworth, “Opening up Philippians” (Leominster: Day One Publications, 2004), 25.)
“The secret is this: when you have the single mind, you look on your circumstances as God-given opportunities for the furtherance of the Gospel; and you rejoice at what God is going to do instead of complaining about what God did not do.” (Warren W. Wiersbe, “The Bible Exposition Commentary”, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 68.)
3. When we stay strong and stand for Christ, others are emboldened to do the same.
Others are watching you. Never lose sight of THAT. And others will be strengthened and encouraged and emboldened if you stay the course, or just the opposite if you crumble under the trial. Oh the influence of a suffering believer who stays the course!
Think back over the many believers you’ve been privileged to know. No doubt there are some who have gone through some rough spots, and come out the other side still standing. No doubt there are some who have gone through similar rough spots and collapsed under the trial. Think of how each of these influenced you, and realize that in just the same way, others watch how YOU handle trials and difficulties in life. Do you stand? Or do you collapse?
4. There will always be good and bad examples in men.
We cannot allow our eyes to be diverted from the goal of keeping the gospel central, by being drawn into watching men. What men do does not matter. Too many are taken out of the fight because they got their eyes off Christ and off the gospel, and on some bad man or men.
Paul’s example should help us overlook the faults and frailties and foibles of those who are preaching the gospel and concentrate on the gospel they are preaching!
The gospel is the source of power, not the preacher. The gospel is powerful enough to overshadow and rise above anybody, whether they be good or bad.
5. The only thing that matters is the gospel. The ONLY thing.
Everything else is secondary. Notice how Paul stated that fact in Galatians 2:20 “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.
His freedom was secondary. His comfort was secondary. His fame and prestige was secondary. Nothing else mattered but the gospel – the good news of Jesus Christ.
Is this our heart?
Such a gospel focused heart comes from a mind focused on eternity… the long view… the restoration of all things (Matthew 19:28). Paul didn’t have a bucket list of fun things he wanted to experience before he died, because he knew that could all wait for the day God remade the world perfect and new. His focus was never on this world or the pleasures of this life, for he knew there would be plenty of time for that in eternity.
The only thing that mattered was the gospel. Everything else could wait!
Having such a mindset does not mean we all have to be preachers or missionaries. It DOES mean, though, that our minds are focused on the gospel as the number 1 thing… our hearts are focused on getting the gospel to everyone we can, however we can, as the number 1 thing. That means bringing people to church… that means letting people see YOU at church… that means when family and friends come to visit on a Sunday you do one of two things when it’s time for church – either bring them with you to hear the gospel, or you put the coffee on for them and tell them you’ll see them after church. What you DON’T do is let them think they are more important that Christ by putting them first and Him and His gospel under them.
NOTHING is more important than the good news of Jesus Christ, not family, not spouses, not children, not jobs, not sports, not vacations, not health, not ANYTHING. Jesus said, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple (Luke 14:26 NKJV). He was not telling us to hate our families. He was telling us that the gospel is EVERYTHING. It is the ONLY thing that matters. Get that right, and everything else falls into place.
6. Getting these things right in our hearts and minds… especially getting the centrality of the gospel right… brings joy.
What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice. (Philippians 1:18 NKJV)
My brothers… my sisters… we will never run out of joy if we, like Paul, live with the gospel at the center of our lives.