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John Ford

Philippians 1:12-19 – The gospel isn’t in lockdown!

Last week, when speaking, my aim was to speak from Philippians 1:12-26. However, in preparing, it was clear that I wouldn’t be able to meaningfully cover verses 12-19, so I only focused on verse 19-26..Therefore, I thought I would write a short blog on these verses to draw out some encouraging themes.

12 I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, 13 so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. 14 And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.

15 Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. 16 The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defence of the gospel. 17 The former proclaim Christ out of rivalry, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. 18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretence or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice (Philippians 1:-12-18).

  1. God’s purposes are being worked out through Paul’s hardship (v12)

As Paul wrote this letter, it was likely that some of the Philippians would have felt confused, disappointed and perhaps even ‘let down’ by God that Paul was under house-arrest, when he had been faithfully following Jesus. Paul is keen to point out, that in his suffering and current circumstances, he can see God at work. Paul wrote to the Roman believers, that “we know in all things God works for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8:28) and here whilst under house-arrest in Rome he comforts the Philippians that “what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel” – the very thing his whole life was centred upon. As followers of Jesus, we can be confident that God is always at work to fulfil his purposes.

2) When hardships and persecution comes, the church can become bolder in proclaiming the gospel (v14)

As believers in Rome saw that Paul continued to trust Jesus, continued to find joy in his faith and continued to proclaim the gospel to anyone who was guarding him (!), it caused them to become more confident in sharing the gospel. One of my friends is a local church leader in a Middle Eastern country. He will often share stories of heartache and suffering for the gospel (including death threats) as well as some wonderful stories of how God has been working. Every time I meet with him, I return home with a greater passion to share the gospel and live radically for Jesus. I suspect, the believers in Rome had a similar experience when they encountered Paul.

Persecution and suffering does not always result in believers becoming more bold in sharing their faith, but it often does. Let’s be a people, who lean into the faithfulness of God in hardships, find him to be faithful, and consequently live more radically for him. 

Paul rejoices as long as more are getting to hear about Jesus (v18) 

When reading this letter, one of the key questions is who are the people who are ‘proclaiming Christ out of rivalry’ in order to afflict Paul in his imprisonment (v17)? Commentators have spilled a lot of ink debating this. 

Tom Wright explains it like this:

“There are some people going around talking about King Jesus who, Paul knows, don’t really mean it. They don’t believe the message; they merely want to make more trouble for him in his imprisonment. Some people have thought that these people were a rival Christian group, opposed to Paul’s specific view of the gospel. But I think it’s more likely that they are ordinary pagans who have heard what all the fuss is about and are talking about it on the street.

‘Have you heard?’ they’ll be saying to each other. ‘They’ve caught that strange fellow who’s been going around saying there’s a new king – a new emperor! And you won’t believe it – this new king turns out to be a Jew whom they crucified a few years ago, and this jailbird is saying he’s alive again and he’s the real Lord of the world!’

Talk like that would be guaranteed to make people feel that Paul was a dangerous lunatic who should be kept locked up. But Paul’s reaction is to celebrate. That’s fine by me, he says. As long as people are going around saying that Jesus is the world’s true Lord, I shall be happy.” (Tom Wright, Paul for Everyone – The Prison Letters. SPCK).

Paul’s imprisonment was causing many people to talk about Jesus and the gospel and this caused him to rejoice.

In the current coronavirus it right for us to mourn. However, in this hardship people are beginning to explore the big questions of life and are turning to the church. 

“A quarter of adults in the UK have watched or listened to a religious service since the coronavirus lockdown began, and one in 20 have started praying during the crisis, according to a new survey.

The survey of more than 2,000 people, commissioned by the Christian aid agency Tearfund and carried out last weekend, found that a third of young adults aged between 18 and 34 had watched or listened to an online or broadcast religious service, compared with one in five adults over the age of 55.

One in five of those who have tuned into services in the past few weeks say they have never gone to church.”

(Guardian, 3rd May 2020, retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/may/03/british-public-turn-to-prayer-as-one-in-four-tune-in-to-religious-services on 07.05.2020) 

Like the apostle, in the midst of this crisis, let’s rejoice that people are visiting online church and asking the big questions. Elsewhere when preaching the gospel Paul said that God “having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their (mankind’s) dwelling place, 27 that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way towards him and find him” (Acts 17:26-27). 

Let’s pray that, at this time, many people will come to the ‘Father of compassion’ and put their trust in Jesus, as Lord and Saviour.