After thanking God for the Philippians’ partnership in the Gospel and praying for them to abound more and more in love with discernment, Paul updated the church in Philippi on what has been happening with him in Rome; letting them know that even though he is in a difficult place, the Gospel advances because God is faithful to empower His message of redemption. Paul is able to rejoice because He knew who he was and why he was where he was. Let’s examine this further.
The Gospel Advances even in Difficult Places (12-14)
Paul wrote, “I want you to know, brothers, that which has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel.” What has happened to Paul? He is in prison. While prison could immobilize Paul, it could not stop the gospel. There were two important fruits of Paul’s imprisonment: 1) his captors know he is imprisoned for his faith (13), and 2) his fellow believers were emboldened to preach because they have “become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment” (1:14). The Gospel advances in difficult places because it “is the power of God for salvation” (Rom 1:16). It is God who empowers the Gospel to go forth (Matt 28:18-20, to take root (Phil 2:13), and to produce fruit (1 Cor 3:7). The difficulty of the situation is not a barrier to the Gospel, but an opportunity. This is important to remember when you are in a difficult place.
The Gospel Advances even with Impure Motives (15-17)
The Gospel advances in difficult places and it even advances when its messengers have impure motives. Paul wrote, “some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will” (1:15). The brothers were “much more bold to speak the word without fear” (1:14) because of Paul’s imprisonment. It makes sense that Paul rejoiced when those who spoke the word did so out of love and good will but notice that Paul also rejoiced with those who preached Christ from envy and rivalry.
How could Paul rejoice with those who preach with impure motives? It is important to note that Paul did not rejoice in a false Gospel (See Galatians). The message is correct, but the motive is impure. The gospel advances because, once again, God empowers the progress. Those who preach out of pretense have a feigned (not real) motive. In other words, they are saying the right things, but for the wrong reasons. Their true motivations are envy (most likely wanting attention) and/or rivalry (fighting with one another). Paul does not approve or condone their impure motives but takes solace in that they are accurately presenting the truth. We are held accountable for how we proclaim the gospel. But even if our motives are not pure, God will be glorified (Is 55:10-11).
The Gospel Advances and I Rejoice (18)
Paul wrote, “whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that (the gospel) I rejoice” (1:18). Paul is not interested in his own interests. Paul rejoices in the subject matter (gospel message), knowing that God is in control (Rom 8:28). We know why Paul is rejoicing, but remember, where he is rejoicing. Paul has been put in a Roman prison because of Jesus. In fact, in Philemon, Paul began that letter by saying that he was “a prisoner for Christ Jesus” (Phm 1:1). To the Philippians, Paul wrote, “that my imprisonment is for Christ” (1:13). Paul could rejoice in prison because he knew his imprisonment was for Christ. Rather than allowing his environment to determine his mood, his mood is affected by Christ. Paul rejoiced even though he suffered. This is because Paul was willing to suffer for the gospel.
In this section, we have seen an example of joyful faith lives out during difficulty. Paul was able to do this because he trusted Christ and was working for Christ. I am sure he had his moments of weakness, he was human just like us. But Paul remembered who he was and why he was where he was. That is a key to a joyful Christian life. You belong to Christ, you live for Christ and he has guided you all along the way, even through difficult places. If you are not willing to suffer loss for the sake of the gospel, you do not understand the gospel.