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I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel (Phil. 1:12).
Bad Things Will Happen
No matter how hard we try, we can’t eliminate bad things from happening in our lives.
- We have security systems, but houses still get robbed.
- We have seatbelts and airbags in our cars, but people still die in car accidents.
- We try to live healthy lifestyles, but people still get sick.
We can reduce the problems in our lives, but we can never eliminate them. When the apostle Paul wrote his to the Philippians, his life was far from perfect. But how he responded to his difficulties provided a good example for the Philippians (and for us today).
The Unchained Gospel
One of the reasons for Paul writing to the Philippians was to let them know how he was doing. So he writes, “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel” (v. 12).
What “ha[d] happened to [Paul]”? He had been imprisoned (1:7, 13, 14, 17). And it was possible that he could be executed (1:20). But instead of Paul dwelling on his problems, he tells the Philippians that his imprisonment had “really served to advance the gospel.”
The word “gospel” means “good news.” The gospel can be summed up with three words: problem, solution, and response. The problem is sin, the solution is Christ, and the response is faith. The gospel is the only message that brings salvation.
Paul was “in chains,” but the gospel was still advancing. During another imprisonment, Paul wrote to his friend Timothy, “I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound!” (2 Tim. 2:9).
The Gospel and Our Circumstances
In the midst of Paul’s bad circumstances, he never lost sight of what was most important: the advancement of the gospel.
1. The advancement of the gospel is possible in all circumstances.
Paul’s use of the word “really” reveals that he “felt that what he was writing would come as a surprise to the Philippians” (Frank Thielman, Philippians, 58). They would have been troubled about Paul being in prison. They were not expecting him to say that anything good had come out of it. Paul’s imprisonment had advanced the gospel in two ways.
First, people in Rome were being exposed to the gospel: “So that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ” (v. 13). Second, Christians had gained courage in sharing the gospel: “And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear” (v. 14). Paul’s imprisonment had a positive effect on both unbelievers (v. 13) and believers (v. 14).
Paul “did not merely say that the gospel had continued to make progress in spite of adversity; rather, the adversity itself had turned out for the advancement of the gospel” (Moises Silva, Philippians, 62).
The Philippians were also facing adversity (1:29-30). Paul’s example showed them that the gospel can advance even when circumstances are bad.
2. If our joy is connected to the advancement of the gospel, it will remain firm regardless of our circumstances.
For Paul, the advancement of the gospel was more important than his circumstances. If a bad circumstance, like imprisonment, could be used by God to advance the gospel, he was happy.
The gospel was advancing even though some were preaching it with the wrong motives: “Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will” (v. 15). Those who preached “out of rivalry” did so in an attempt “to afflict [Paul] in [his] imprisonment” (v. 16). Ironically, their preaching brought Paul joy. Why? He writes, “Whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice” (v. 18).
One of the themes of Philippians is joy and peace in the midst of difficult circumstances. In 4:4, Paul writes, “Rejoice in the Lord always.”
Responding to Things We Can't Control
While we can’t control our circumstances, we can control how we respond to things we can’t control. That’s what Paul did. He didn’t want to be in prison, but he understood that the gospel could still be advanced while he was a prisoner. We also can advance the gospel in the midst of bad circumstances.
- The young man who loses his job can demonstrate that he trusts in God, not money.
- The elderly woman who is confined to a sick bed can pray that people would be saved.
- The man who is diagnosed with cancer can be a witness to others by remaining faithful to God.
God can use us to advance the gospel in any circumstance.