Report on Paul’s Ministry of the Gospel: 1.12-26 (Part 1)

12 Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. 13 As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard [a] and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. 14 And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.

15 It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. 16 The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. 18 But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.

Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, 19 for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. [b] 20 I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22 If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! 23 I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; 24 but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that through my being with you again your boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me.

The “I want you to know” phrase followed by a direct address was a conventional “disclosure” formula common in letters of Paul’s time.  The recipients, at this stage, would expect the writer to give a detailed report about his health, whereabouts, and personal circumstances.  But Paul, of course, doesn’t follow the expected pattern.  Instead of recounting all the details of his situation in prison, he informs the readers of the progress of his ministry of the gospel.  For Paul, the advancement of the gospel is the most important thing about his life that he has to share with his brothers and sisters in Philippi.  His own suffering, health, or personal circumstances are of little significance by comparison.  In fact, the entire section (1.12-26) could be classified as a report on Paul’s ministry and happenings with respect to the gospel—the advancement of the gospel is the overriding concern.

12 Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. 13 As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard [a] and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. 14 And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.

It would be natural to assume that Paul’s imprisonment would impede the advancement of the gospel.  For this reason, Paul wants to make it very clear that contrary to what his readers might expect his imprisonment has actually served to advance the gospel.  In fact, because of Paul’s chains, the gospel has advanced both outside (1.13) and inside the Christian community from which Paul writes.[i]

The Roman guards and others would have immediately recognized the subversive force of Paul’s message; for the gospel declared Jesus as the ultimate Lord and Savior (2.11; 3.20), titles normally attributed to Caesar.[ii] It would have been clear to all why Paul was in chains.  But Paul viewed his imprisonment as an opportunity to continue to proclaim Jesus as the resurrected Lord, and his testimony was becoming well known (1.13).

In addition, Paul’s boldness to preach the gospel while in chains inspired other fellow believers who might not otherwise have had the courage to preach Christ without fear (1.14).  Because of Paul’s witness, their faith was stronger.  The fear of punishment became less great and the threat of imprisonment, less daunting.  Let’s face it, “courage is contagious!”[iii]

15 It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. 16 The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. 18 But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.

Out of Paul’s boldness, a couple different groups emerge.  It’s important to note that the difference between the two is not their doctrine but their motives and attitude toward Paul.  Other than reconstructing the details, there’s nothing too terribly difficult about this section: some preach out of love, recognizing that Paul has been appointed by God for the defense of the gospel, while others preach out of selfish ambition, hoping to stir up trouble for Paul.

Did some envy the following Paul had gained?  Or were they trying to make matters worse for Paul, knowing that the more noise they created in the streets of Rome the more difficult things would be for Paul in prison?  It’s tough to be sure but, regardless, Paul’s not interested in getting caught up in the drama.  The personal distress or harm this group causes him, or the effect that it has on his own ego, matters not.  What matters is that Christ is preached—this brings him great joy![iv]

If we could only model Paul’s attitude here!  He demonstrates the ability to personally detach himself from the actions of others.  He’s a perfect example of someone who is secure in his identity in Christ.  He doesn’t need the approval of others nor does he find his worth in things outside of Christ.  He lives to please Christ and Christ alone.  And we most certainly don’t find him dwelling on his troubles; instead, we find him rejoicing because of the advancement of the gospel.

Verses 18b-26 will be addressed next week in Part 2.


[i] O’Brien, Philippians, 91.

[ii] Hansen, Philippians, 68.

[iii] Ibid., 70.

[iv] Ibid., 75.

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One Response to Report on Paul’s Ministry of the Gospel: 1.12-26 (Part 1)

  1. GB says:

    What a great example Paul sets for us. Knows his mission and keeps his priorities straight. I pray that we could be more like him. gb

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