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Paul’s Chains Advance the Gospel July 26, 2012

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
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Here are my thoughts on Philippians 1:12-30.

Summary: Paul begins by telling the Philippians that his circumstances – instead of hindering the Gospel – have advanced it. His captivity has borne testimony to the Gospel among:

  • the soldiers in the imperial regiments
  • a wider circle.

His captivity has also spurred a majority of believers to have confidence in the Lord to preach the Gospel more zealously – without fear.

Now Paul notes that in Rome, there are:

  • Judaizing Christians who preach the Gospel from their envy of his influence
  • others who preach the Gospel out of benevolence.

Those in the latter group know that Paul has been destined to preach the Gospel. Those in the former group, though, act to promote the interests of their party and behave selfishly, aiming to annoy him during his captivity. Yet he knows that whether the Gospel is preached out of 1) a desire to promote the interests of a particular party or 2) selflessness, it is preached; thus, he is determined to rejoice.

Indeed, Paul will rejoice, as the Philippians have prayed for him, and their prayers have been answered by God, as He has supplied the Holy Spirit to Paul; this bountiful supply will save him. He earnestly desires that he would not be cowardly – but confident, so that Christ would always be glorified in him. Now he knows that living entails serving Christ, while dying entails a complete realization of his union with Christ. Yet he wonders if his life might bear fruit for Christ; he does not understand what would be the better option in this case. He is hemmed in both sides; his own desire is to leave his earthly tent and be in the presence of Christ – yet it is better that he clings to his present life. Being persuaded of this fact, he is convicted that he will continue to strengthen the Philippians in their faith. Thus, they would be able to boast in him.

Now Paul exhorts the Philippians – whether he visits them or not – to live as citizens of heaven and hold their ground. More specifically, they would not be timid in the face of opposition; their fearlessness would show their opponents that:

  • God would deliver the Philippians
  • they would be destroyed.

Indeed, God has granted the Philippians the privilege of suffering for Christ. Paul concludes by noting that they are contending for their faith, just as he was persecuted at Philippi – and is enduring opposition in Rome.

Thoughts: In verses 15-18, Paul addresses the issue of Judaizing Christians in Rome who preach the Gospel with the twin objectives of 1) gaining converts to their theology and 2) belittling him. Lightfoot offers some insights on this point in his commentary on verse 15:

Here…the choice is between an imperfect Christianity and an unconverted state; the former, however inadequate, must be better than the latter, and therefore must give joy to a high-minded servant of Christ. In Rome there was room enough for him and for them. He was content therefore that each should work on independently. It was a step in the right direction to know Christ, even though he were known only in a worldly way.

Now this is a rather difficult passage to digest, notwithstanding Lightfoot’s explanation. I wonder how Paul would react to a pastor who insisted on his congregants wearing formal clothing to Sunday services and claimed that those who dressed casually were not truly saved. Also, how would Paul react to a pastor who insisted that his congregants refrain from consuming alcohol and claimed that only teetotalers are truly saved? Perhaps God had already revealed to Paul that the converts of the Judaizing preachers would eventually know the freedom of the Gospel, which would have been quite encouraging.

Verses 21-26 illustrate Paul’s struggle between living for Christ and dying – whereby he could be with Christ. Lightfoot offers some insights on this point in his commentary on verse 22:

The grammar of the passage reflects the conflict of feeling in the apostle’s mind. He is tossed to and fro between the desire to labor for Christ in life, and the desire to be united with Christ by death. The abrupt and disjointed sentences express this hesitation.

Unfortunately, many modern-day Christians – and I would count myself in this camp – fail to truly appreciate this inherent dilemma in Paul’s ministry. More often that not, believers seek the pleasures of life on this planet, bemoan the sufferings that stem from laboring “for Christ,” and fear death – especially as we fail to grasp the concept of infinity. This passage serves as an important reminder for believers to focus on Christ and embrace the concept of eternity – without getting ensnared by impermanent issues.

In verse 29, Paul states that the Philippians are blessed by God in that they are suffering for Him. Lightfoot restates this point as follows:

“God has granted you the high privilege of suffering for Christ; this is the surest sign that he looks upon you with favor.”

This is an interesting statement and it caused me to think about believers who live in different contexts. Are believers in countries where Christianity is denounced, e.g. China and Nigeria, automatically more blessed than other believers in countries where Christianity is tolerated, e.g. the U.K. and the U.S.? Will believers who are being actively persecuted for their faith automatically gain a relatively higher place in heaven than believers who enjoy freedom of worship? Of course, this subject is a can of worms; the question “can Western believers truly suffer for Christ?” has been roundly debated.

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