When is comes to reaching the lost amidst dire circumstances, there are two truths from Philippians 1:12-26 to keep in mind.
First, remember that the fruit of the gospel still flourishes during adversity (12-18).
In verses 12 – 18, Paul focuses in on his situation in relation to the furtherance of the Gospel. He clearly states “I want you to know…” (I would ye should understand…), in verse 12. Paul wants the believers to know/understand that the things that have happened to him have “fallen out rather for the furtherance of the gospel” (v. 12b).
It is important to understand that one of the difficulties with Philippians is determining from where Paul wrote it. Some claim Paul wrote it while imprisoned in Ephesus. The Bible makes no statement of Paul ever being imprisoned in Ephesus even though its proximity to Philippi might make for a compelling argument. Some claim Paul wrote Phillipians while imprisoned at Caesarea. We know that Paul was in prison more than two years at the palace in Caesarea before being sent to Rome to stand before Nero (Acts 24:27 and 25:9-11).
Acts 24:27 But after two years Porcius Festus came into Felix’ room: and Felix, willing to shew the Jews a pleasure, left Paul bound.
“9 But Festus, willing to do the Jews a pleasure, answered Paul, and said, Wilt thou go up to Jerusalem, and there be judged of these things before me?
10 Then said Paul, I stand at Caesar’s judgment seat, where I ought to be judged: to the Jews have I done no wrong, as thou very well knowest.
11 For if I be an offender, or have committed any thing worthy of death, I refuse not to die: but if there be none of these things whereof these accuse me, no man may deliver me unto them. I appeal unto Caesar.”
The problem here is that there does not seem to be a strong church developing in Caesarea. Even more the distance from Philippi to Caesarea poses some problems as well. Others claim Paul wrote Philippians while imprisoned in Rome the first time. This fits well with the situation. Paul was faced with either life or death. The church in Rome was flourishing. Paul mentions those of Caesar’s household as sending greeting (Phil 4:22).
Philippians 4:22 “All the saints salute you, chiefly they that are of Caesar’s household.”
The difficulty that some have with the first Roman imprisonment being the place of orgin deals with Rome’s distance from Philippi. However, Philippi is along the Egnatian Way in Macedonia which would made travel possible (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Via_Egnatia). Bearing these things in mind, Rome seems to be the best place from which Paul wrote Philippians during his first Roman imprisonment in the late 50’s or early 60’s.
So what things have happened to Paul while on his journeys of spreading the Gospel?
In 2 Corinthians 11, Paul speaks of his sufferings as an apostle. It is important to note that Paul wrote I Corinthians while in Ephesus probably around 55 AD. 2 Corinthians was written shortly thereafter probably around 56 AD while still in Macedonia (Blue Letter Bible has a helpful time-line). In other words the sufferings of Paul listed in 2 Corinthians have already taken place by the time he writes to the Philippians.
Consider Paul’s sufferings in 2 Corinthians 11:23-30.
23 Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft.
24 Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one.
(Note this is a Jewish synagogue punishment
25 Thrice was I beaten with rods (a Roman punishment),
once was I stoned (stoned at Lystra see Acts 14:19),
thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep;
(this was before his voyage to Rome)
26 In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren;
27 In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness.
28 Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches.
29 Who is weak, and I am not weak? who is offended, and I burn not?
30 If I must needs glory, I will glory of the things which concern mine infirmities.
Back in Philippians, Paul’s imprisonment resulted in the whole praetorium (Roman elite guards stationed in Rome) being made aware of His bonds in Christ (1:13). In fact, many of the brethren in the Lord having become more confident because of Paul’s bonds dare even to speak the word without fear (14). The result of Paul’s bonds is that the Gospel is preached (15-18a).
1. On the one hand there are those who preach Christ through envy/jealousy and strife (15a).
2. On the other hand there are those who preach Christ through goodwill (15b)
3. On the one hand (the former) preach Christ out of selfish ambition not sincerely/purely thinking to bring distress affliction to Paul in his bonds (16).
4. The latter, on the other hand, do it out of love knowing that Paul is appointed for a defense of the Gospel (17).
(Just a small note for clarification: verses 16 and 17 of the KJV follow the order of the Byzantine and Stephanus Greek NT while other versions follow an inversion of verses 16 and 17 found in the Tischendorf, Wescott & Hort, and Nestle-Aland Greek New Testaments).
Notice Paul’s conclusion on the matter as he writes, “What then? notwithstanding, every way, whether in pretence, or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice” (Phil. 1:18 KJV). The point is that the word is going out even if some folk’s motives are flawed, and Paul rejoices that it is going out.
Application: How many times has adversity kept you from sharing the Gospel? How many times has fear of what others might think held you back? How many times have difficulties stolen your focus and robbed you of your passion for sharing Christ?
A few articles to consider:
Christian Numbers Growing in Iran a blog posted in July 2017.
In China, Unregistered Churches are Driving a Revolution by Ian Johnson.
Does the Church Thrive Under Persecution by Marc Cortez (Persecution is a horrible thing, and it certainly is easy to pick and choose to make it seem like persecution is the only way for the church to grow.) Persecution is not the only way the church for the church to grow, but we must never allow persecution to stop it neither.
Would having your name written down by a government agent cause you to stop attending church? Most us would say no. Instead, hobbies and other personal interests keep many people from serving the local NT church in America.
Remember that the fruit of the Gospel still flourishes during adversity.
Secondly, Recognize that the fruit of the Gospel is a top priority with Christ (18b-26).
Paul carries his conclusion to rejoice in the spread of the Gospel forward to explain why he rejoices. Paul knows that the spread of the Gospel will result in his deliverance through the prayers of the believers and through the assistance of the Spirit of Jesus Christ (v. 18-19). Paul recognizes that he will not be put to shame (v. 20). His expectation and hope will be realized.
In fact Christ will be glorified in his body whether through life (i.e. deliverance) or death (v. 20).
What does Paul mean when declares that “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain” (21)? Verse 21 points both backward to what has been said and forward what he is going to say. Paul shares his personal struggle in verses 22-24. He is in place of not knowing what to choose, for he has two competing interests. He would much rather be with the Lord which is far better than this life. Still, he knows that it more needful for the believers that he remain here (24). Now get this, because Paul is so in tune with the Lord’s priority of the Gospel, he is sure that He will remain (25-26).
Conclusion: Handle your adversity with a healthy perspective on the fruit of the Gospel.
I. Remember that the fruit of the Gospel still flourishes during adversity (12-18).
II. Recognize that the fruit of the Gospel is a top priority with Christ (18-26).
Share Christ with some this week no matter what comes.
For His Glory, Pastor Richard Woodruff