Joy In Adversity
Philippians Lesson 2
CENTRAL THEME: THE SPREAD OF THE GOSPEL
INTRODUCTION: Christians in some areas of the world face constant pressure, threats, intimidation, and even persecution. Most recently we have seen some of those hardships for the believers in Afghanistan. Throughout history, persecution has often been a unifying force. It seems counterintuitive, but at times where Christians have been harassed, threatened, and even martyred, the Gospel has flourished. That is happening in our world today in some places. Even in times of intense persecution, when Satan has tried to stamp out Christianity, in many instances it has resulted in revivals and the spread of the Gospel.
WHAT IS YOUR EXPLANATION FOR CHRISTIANITY SPREADING IN PLACES OF INTENSE PERSECUTION? Certainly, persecution weeds out the nominal believers and those who are Christians in name only. It is also true that God’s Spirit gives a special measure of GRACE and PEACE to those who stand for the truth of God’s Word. HOW DO YOU THINK YOU WOULD HANDLE PERSECUTION IF IT EVER TOUCHED YOU? Many Christians say, “I’m willing to die for Jesus!” The real question is, “Are you willing to LIVE for Him?”
UNDERSTAND THE CONTEXT
Having greeted his Philippian friends and expressed gratitude and prayers of intercession for them, Paul updated them about his own circumstances. Not only did he explain the situations of his life, but more importantly he revealed his attitude toward what was happening to him. Perhaps nowhere in his writings does Paul reveal his passion and his desire to see the Gospel go to the ends of the earth, more than in Philippians Chapter 1. No matter the cost, Paul wanted the Gospel to be preached! The Apostle began with a summary reference to the past by speaking of what had happened to him. He moved quickly to update the Philippian Church on what was going on concerning the spread of the Gospel as a result of what had happened. However, his focus was not on his personal situation as much as it was the resultant progress of the Gospel witness that was happening in Rome. In particular, the Apostle focused on the twin facts that Roman guards were responding to the Gospel and believers in Rome were gaining courage to share the Gospel without fear (1:12-14).
Motivations for sharing the Gospel, however, were not pure in every case. Paul had become aware that some were presenting the Gospel in hopes of doing him harm even as others witnessed out of pure motives. Paul’s heart for the Gospel was evident in that he was at peace regardless of the mixed motives of others, knowing that in every case the true “Good News” was being spread in Rome (1:15-18). Returning to the reality of his own imprisonment, Paul expressed confidence that the prayers of the Philippians and the influence of the Holy Spirit would enable him to be delivered from any shame over the Gospel message, if not also enable his deliverance from his imprisonment. His hope in any case was that Christ would be honored whether by death or by continued ministry (1:19-20). His situation, however, did occasion for Paul much reflection on either outcome of his day in court – whether released to continue living and preaching or to face a martyr’s death. He shared his confidence of being freed from prison and remaining alive for the benefit of the Philippian believers, resulting in joy and encouragement for them (1:21-26).
EXPLORE THE TEXT: PHILIPPIANS 1:12-26
Objective Statement: Every Christian should rejoice in the spread of the Gospel for 4 reasons considered in our text.
REASON #1 – OPEN DOORS (Phil. 1:12-14)
12 But I would ye should understand, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the Gospel; 13 So that my bonds in Christ are manifest in all the palace, and in all other places; 14 And many of the brethren in the Lord, waxing confident by my bonds, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.
In most of Paul’s other Epistles, he shares his current circumstances with his readers toward the end of the main body of his letter. But in this correspondence with the Philippians, he addresses his plight right at the beginning. This observation likely points to the mutual affection that had developed between the Apostle and the Church at Philippi. Consequently, he quickly reassures his friends that what was happening to him meant “the furtherance of the Gospel” (vs. 12). The word “furtherance” means “pioneer advance”. It is a Greek military term referring to the army engineers who go before the troops to open the way into new territory. Instead of finding himself confined as a prisoner, Paul discovered that his circumstances really opened up new areas of ministry.
Paul’s use of the phrase “I would ye should understand, brethren” (vs. 12a), was a statement of transparency he wanted to clearly explain his desire for them to know the whole truth. No doubt, rumors were flying around all over Europe and Asia Minor about what was happening to Paul. So he wanted them to hear it from him, exactly what he was going through and how he interpreted God’s hand in it all. Yes, he was in “bonds” but those chains were resulting in the Gospel being preached in Nero’s palace, “and in all other places” (vs. 13). And other “brethren in the Lord” were emboldened “to speak the word without fear” (vs. 14). The same God who used Moses’ rod, Gideon’s pitchers, and David’s sling, used Paul’s chains. Little did the Romans realize that the chains they affixed to his wrists would release Paul instead of bind him.
To begin with, these chains gave Paul contact with the lost. He was chained to a Roman soldier twenty-four hours a day. The shifts changed every six hours, which meant Paul could witness to at least four men each day. Sometimes God has to put “bonds” on His people to get them to accomplish a “pioneer advance” that could never happen any other way. The secret is this: When you have the mind of Christ, 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.
Paul’s chains not only gave contact with the lost, but they also gave courage to the saved. Discouragement has a way of spreading, but so does encouragement. Because of Paul’s joyful attitude, the believers in Rome took fresh courage and witnessed boldly for Christ. Paul took every opportunity to view his circumstances and challenges as an Open Door for the Gospel to be advanced to those who did not know Jesus!
IN YOUR OBSERVATION OR EXPERIENCE, WHAT KINDS OF CIRCUMSTANCES OR DIFFICULTIES TEND TO MAKE PEOPLE MORE OPEN TO HEARING AND RESPONDING TO A GOSPEL WITNESS?
REASON #2 – MISSION ACCOMPLISHED (Phil. 1:15-18)
15 Some indeed preach Christ even of envy and strife; and some also of good will: 16 The one preach Christ of contention, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my bonds: 17 But the other of love, knowing that I am set for the defence of the Gospel. 18 What then? notwithstanding, every way, whether in pretence, or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice.
As Paul continued to describe the advance of the Gospel that resulted from his Roman imprisonment, he distinguished between impure and pure motives among those emboldened to share that Gospel. By introducing his remarks with the word “indeed” (vs. 15), Paul made it clear that he was aware of the mixed motives that lay behind the renewed efforts to share the good news of Christ in the very heart of the Roman Empire. Those harboring the wrong motives bore witness out “of envy and strife” (vs. 15). Their envy of the Apostle stirred them to attempt to cause division. What they failed to count on was that Paul valued the preaching of the right message even if the motivations were wrong. Paul used an interesting word in verse 16 – “contention.” In Greek, the word means “to canvass for office, to get people to support you.” Paul’s aim was to glorify Christ and get people to follow Him; his critics’ aim was to promote themselves and win a following of their own. Criticism is often hard to take when we are in difficult circumstances. When you have the mind of Jesus, you look on your critics as another opportunity for the furtherance of the gospel. Like a faithful soldier Paul was “set [appointed] for the defense of the gospel” (vs. 17). What a remarkable attitude of grace and joy Paul possessed as we see in vs. 18. Those who faithfully desire to see the mission accomplished, keep their focus on the advance of the message and not on the advance of personal agendas! Paul rejoiced greatly that “Christ is preached!”
AS WE BEGIN OUR MISSION’S MONTH, ISN’T IT FITTING TO HAVE THE ATTITUDE OF PAUL IN ORDER TO ACCOMPLISH THE MISSION? FROM THIS REASON #2, HOW SHOULD WE APPROACH OUR HEART AS WE CONSIDER THE NEED?
REASON #3 – GOD IS HONORED (Phil. 1:19-21)
19 For I know that this shall turn to my salvation through your prayer, and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, 20 According to my earnest expectation and my hope, that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but that with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death. 21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
Paul not only rejoiced over the increased spread of the Gospel while he was imprisoned but also over the expectation of his “salvation” or deliverance through the “prayer” of the Philippians and with help from “the Spirit of Jesus Christ” (vs. 19). His perseverance would not be due simply to his own strong will but rather due to the prayers of others and the intervention of the Holy Spirit. From Paul’s letters, we know that he placed great stock in the value and effectiveness of prayer. Though separated by distance, their prayers for Paul could span that expanse in seconds.
The Apostle gave a glance into his inmost being with the phrase “my earnest expectation and my hope” (vs. 20). The conjoining of these terms expresses an optimistic waiting based on a well-founded expectation. In no circumstance surrounding him or outcome awaiting him would Paul “be ashamed” (20b). Just as Paul had lived and ministered “with all boldness,” the Apostle faced his future with that same boldness, whether that future was to be defined “by life, or by death” (vs. 20c). At this point in his life, Paul was living with a mixture of certainty and uncertainty. He was certain about his intention that Christ should be honored; while remaining uncertain how this objective would unfold in his circumstances. He boldly faced his future with the profound conviction that no matter what happened to him, “as always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body,” (vs. 20c). Like Paul, all believers honor God by being faithful to Him in life and at the time of death! What a beautiful way Paul encapsulated the whole matter of Christian living in one phrase when he said, “for me to live is Christ” (vs. 21). That is the highest ideal for every believer! Sometimes Paul imported the preposition “in” as a verbal help in explaining the Christian life. For example he said, we are “in Christ” (Rom. 8:1); and Gal. 2:20 tells us that “Christ in me.” So if we truly strive to be a God honoring example in our Christian life, we must be like, “Christ!” Paul goes on to complete his thought “to die is gain” (vs. 21). For believers, living indeed “is Christ” during one’s lifetime and dying will mean even more of Christ for eternity.
REASON #4 – CHRIST ALONE (Phil. 1:22-26)
22 But if I live in the flesh, this is the fruit of my labour: yet what I shall choose I wot not. 23 For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better: 24 Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you. 25 And having this confidence, I know that I shall abide and continue with you all for your furtherance and joy of faith; 26 That your rejoicing may be more abundant in Jesus Christ for me by my coming to you again.
Having given thought to the fact that living is Christ and dying is gain, Paul confessed to a wonderful dilemma. He basically said, “I don’t know what I should do” (vs. 22-23). He knew if he left, “to be with Christ; which is far better,” then he would be unable to keep ministering to his friends in Philippi. To remain alive was necessary for the believers’ benefit in Philippi, but to depart and be with Christ was his supreme goal. So what did he decide?
Of course, death had no terrors for Paul; it simply meant “departing.” This word was used by soldiers; it meant “to take down your tent and move on.” What a picture of Christian death! The “tent” we live in is taken down at death, and the spirit goes home to be with Christ in heaven. Sailors also used this word; it meant “to loosen a ship and set sail.” Both illustrations are beautiful pictures of a Christian’s attitude towards going home.
But “departure” was also a political term; it described the setting free of a prisoner. God’s people are in bondage because of the limitations of the body and the temptations of the flesh, but death will free them. Or we will be freed at the return of Christ if that should come first. Finally, “departure” was a word used by farmers; it meant “to unyoke the oxen.” Paul had taken Christ’s yoke, which is an easy yoke to bear, (Matt 11:28-30), but how many burdens he carried in his ministry! In the final analysis, “The needs of others outweighed Paul’s desire to be with Christ immediately” (Explore the Bible, p. 29). His attitude is expressed in vs. 25-26! Ultimately, he was willing to enter into new areas of spiritual growth, one way or the other.
No matter how you look at it, nothing can steal a man’s joy if he possesses the mind of Christ, Alone! “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21).
Remember our Objective Statement: Every Christian should rejoice in the spread of the Gospel for 4 reasons considered in our text.