Putting the Passage into Context
Paul founded the church at Philippi while on his second missionary journey. The church at Philippi was the first church to be planted in Europe and its charter members were an Asian businesswoman, a Greek slave-girl, and a Roman jailor. Some scholars believe that Luke, who accompanied Paul from Troas to Philippi, may have remained at Philippi to provide leadership for the church. If that was the case, then that may help to explain why this church had a peculiar interest in helping Paul in his missionary endeavors.
Paul’s letter to the Philippians is something of a missionary thank-you letter, although the letter contains far more than Paul’s expression of thanksgiving. The occasion for the thanks was a special love offering that the Philippians had sent to Paul via Epaphroditus. Robertson writes: “When Paul wrote to the Philippians, time enough had elapsed since his arrival in Rome for the Philippian church to hear of his arrival and condition and to send Epaphroditus with messages and gifts, for Epaphroditus to fall ill, for the Philippians to hear of it, for Epaphroditus to be distressed over their sorrow and to recover health (Philippians 2:25-30).”
Erdman points out that Philippians differs from Paul’s other letters (e.g., Romans Corinthians, Galatians) in that he was not writing to establish doctrine or to correct errors in belief or practice, but to express his gratitude and affection to certain of his friends. Robertson adds that the letter to the Philippians is “like a window into the Apostle’s own bosom” and we should thus gratefully and reverently look in to see what Paul has revealed of Christ in himself.
Paul and Timothy, bond-servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, including the overseers and deacons: (1:1)
It is interesting to note the way in which Paul identifies himself in this letter: “Paul and Timothy, bond-servants of Christ Jesus . . .” Paul usually assumed the title of “apostle” in his letters. That was his usual style of introduction, especially when writing to defend a doctrine, enforce a command, or insist upon his authority. Such an introduction however, was unnecessary in his letter to the Philippians. This was a friendly, personal, and informal letter to a beloved church in which there was no real challenge to his authority or message.
It is also interesting to note that Paul associated Timothy with him in the opening address (as he did also in the two Thessalonian epistles and 2 Corinthians). Timothy had assisted Paul in establishing the church at Philippi and had visited them at least twice since (see Acts 19:22 and 20:3-4). Paul was also preparing to send Timothy to them again (Phil. 2:19-24). It is important to note that Timothy was not a co-author of this letter (note the use of the first person singular throughout the letter). Some scholars believe that Timothy may have acted as Paul’s secretary, writing the letter as Paul dictated it.
Paul identifies himself and Timothy as “bond-servants of Christ Jesus.” The word used here is the Greek word “doulos”, meaning “slave.” Paul here acknowledges Christ as his “owner” or “master” and expresses his complete dependence and personal willingness to obey Christ in all things. “Bond-servants” identifies Paul and Timothy as men who belong wholly to the Lord and are acting in His name.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (1:2)
Barclay writes: “When Paul put together these two great words, “grace” and “peace”, he was doing something very wonderful. He was taking the normal greeting phrases of two great nations and molding them into one. “Charis” is the greeting with which Greek letters always began and “eirene” the greeting with which Jews met each other. Each of these words had its own flavour and each was deepened by the new meaning which Christianity poured into it.”
Paul took the usual word for “greeting” (chairein) and chose another word from the same root (charis) meaning “grace, joy, brightness, beauty” and at once reminded his readers of the unmerited favor of God toward man that is able to bring new beauty to life through the Lord Jesus Christ. To this word Paul added the characteristic Hebrew greeting “shalom” (or “eirene” in Greek) meaning “Peace be with you.” It refers to the kind of peace that comes from being in right relationship with self, others, and God. It is the kind of peace born of reconciliation. It is important to keep the order in mind, grace and then peace. Peace can come only through the grace of God. It is also important to note the source from which grace and peace flow, namely “from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, (1:3)
Erdman writes that one of the chief blessings of life is the power of memory. “This faculty can be a treasure house out of which jewels may be drawn in hours of need. It can be a garden where fair flowers ever bloom. It has been said that “God gave us memory so that we might have roses in December.’” And indeed, the Philippians were “roses in December” for the Apostle Paul. Barclay writes: “In our personal relationships it is a great thing to have nothing but happy memories; and that was how Paul was with the Christians at Philippi. To remember brought no regrets, only happiness.” Barclay writes that it is worth asking: “Am I the kind of Christian who brings joy to my pastor’s heart when he thinks of me?”
What were Paul’s memories of Philippi? According to Acts 16 we might conclude that Paul’s memories of Philippi ought to produce sorrow rather than joy. It was in Philippi that Paul was illegally arrested and beaten, imprisoned and humiliated before the people. But those memories caused Paul to rejoice and give thanks, for it was through his ministry and suffering that Lydia, the slave-girl, and the jailor came to faith in Christ.
always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all, (1:4)
Paul’s thanksgiving in verse 3 leads us to the prayer of verse 4. Paul assured the Philippians that he was continually praying on their behalf. Whenever memory brought the Philippians to mind Paul prayed for them with gratitude and joy, and whenever Paul was on his knees in prayer, memory brought his friends before him. Notice also the use of the word “joy” in verse 4. This is the first mention of this little word which will be used repeatedly throughout this letter. Here we see that Paul’s prayer was in the major key — with joy!
A story is told of a nurse who once taught a man to pray and in so doing changed his life. She taught the man to pray using her hands as a pattern of prayer. Each finger stood for someone. Her thumb was nearest to her, and it reminded her to pray for those who were closest to her. The second finger was used for pointing and it stood for all her teachers in school and in the hospital. The third finger was the tallest and it stood for the V.I.P.s, the leaders in every sphere of life. The fourth finger was the weakest, as every pianist knows, and it stood for those who were in trouble and in pain. The little finger was the smallest and the least important and to the nurse it stood for herself.
Like the Apostle Paul, may we pray with joy and experience the joy of praying for others . . . those who are near us, those who have taught us, those who lead us, those who need us, and ourselves.
in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now. (1:5)
In verse 5 Paul states the specific occasion for his thanksgiving and joy. It is the participation of the Philippians in the furtherance of the gospel. The word “participation” is rendered “fellowship” in the KJV. It is the word “koinoniai” which means “fellowship, sharing.” The word signifies “your cooperation toward, in the aid of the gospel.” The word refers not only to financial contributions but also denotes cooperation in the widest sense, their participation with Paul whether in sympathy or in suffering or in active labor. (Rienecker/Rogers). Erdman writes that “participation” in the furtherance of the gospel is not to be confined in its meaning to the material support the Philippians had given Paul, but includes their sympathy, their prayers, and their definite witness for Christ in their own church. It further denotes all they had been and done as “saints in Christ Jesus” at Philippi.
Indeed the Philippians had participated in the furtherance of the gospel from the first day they heard it to the present moment. They had shown their support of the gospel from the day Lydia was converted and opened her home to Paul’s missionary team to the very day Epaphroditus delivered their special offering to Paul in Rome. No wonder Paul was so filled with gratitude and thanksgiving for them.
For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. (1:6)
Verse 6 may be interpreted either in reference to service or sanctification. “We may interpret the ‘good work’ of verse 6 as the generous giving which the Philippians had practiced, or we may consider it to be God’s gracious work in their lives at the time of their conversion to Christ. Either interpretation has merit . . .”(Dyet). Erdman argues that the “good work” of verse 6, in view of its connection with what is stated before and after, probably refers to the furtherance of the gospel rather than to the perfecting of character. He believes that Paul was expressing his confident belief that the Philippians would continue in the furtherance of the gospel until the day of Christ’s appearing.
Vos believes that the “good work” of verse 6 is not only a reference to the “participation” of verse 5, but to all that God began to do in the lives of the Philippian believers. This view broadens the scope of the verse to include sanctification. Such a view reminds us that it is God who works in the life of the believer to conform him into the image of Christ (Romans 8:29 – conformity is an inner change with an outward expression), a work which will be completed when we see Him as He is (1 John 3:2-3).
It would be helpful to keep in mind all that our salvation includes:
Salvation from the “penalty” of sin | Justification
Salvation from the “power” of sin | Sanctification
Salvation from the “presence” of sin | Glorification
Warren Wiersbe points out the three-fold work of salvation:
The work God does “for” us | Redemption
The work God does “in” us | Sanctification
The work God does “through” us | Service
It would also be helpful for us to remember the encouraging words of the children’s song, “He’s still working on me, to make me what I ought to be.” Or, in other words, “Be patient . . . God isn’t finished with me yet! I am still under construction. God is doing a great work in my life!”
For it is only right for me to feel this way about you all, because I have you in my heart, since both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you are all partakers of grace with me. (1:7)
Paul here reveals his deep and sincere love for the Philippian believers. Without question these Philippian believers held a special place in his heart. Even though he had only been with them a short time, the Philippians had worked themselves deeply into Paul’s heart. His memories of these believers, their expressions of love and support, and Paul’s love for them no doubt helped sustain him while in prison, giving him greater resolve and determination in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. Paul also again reminded them that they were “all partakers of grace with me” or literally “my co-sharers in grace.” A.T. Robertson comments: “Grace prompted them to alleviate his imprisonment, cooperate with him in defending and propagating the gospel, and to suffer for its sake.”
For God is my witness, how I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. (1:8)
Paul here reveals the extreme depth of his love for the Philippian saints. The term “God is my witness” is somewhat equivalent to saying “God knows the depth of my affection.” Notice that Paul speaks of his love as though it were identical with the love of Christ. J.B. Lightfoot comments on this passage: “The believer has no yearnings apart from his Lord; his pulse beats with the pulse of Christ; his heart throbs with the heart of Christ.” Paul was indeed so filled with the love of Christ as to see Christ loving through him. The word “affection” renders the Greek word “splagchnois” which is inelegantly translated “bowels” in the KJV. The word refers to the inward parts, that is, the heart, liver, and lungs which were collectively regarded as the seat of feeling and is the strongest word in Greek for the feeling of compassion. (Rienecker/Rogers).
And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, (1:9)
In verses 3-8 Paul expressed his personal thanksgiving and love for the Philippian saints. In verses 9-11 Paul prays for their continuing spiritual growth. Paul begins this prayer for maturity with love. The words “your love” refers to their mutual love for each other and their regard for their fellowman. Paul prays that their love “may abound” or may keep overflowing as a perpetual flood of love “still more and more.” Paul however, imposes the necessary limitations (or river banks) of “knowledge” and “discernment.” Love may abound and yet be lacking in knowledge and discernment. Love must be accompanied by knowledge and discernment as its attendants and aids.
The term “knowledge” indicates “a firm conception of those spiritual principles which would guide them in their relations with one another and the world.” (Rienecker/Rogers). This knowledge informs Christian love as to right circumstances, aims, ways, and means. The term “discernment” was “originally used of sense perception but is applicable to the inner world of sensibility and refers to moral and spiritual perception related to practical applications.” (Rienecker/Rogers). This word refers to sensitive moral perception or tact.
The Amplified Bible translates Philippians 1:9 as follows: “And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more and extend to its fullest development in knowledge and all keen insight — that is, that your love may (display itself in) greater depth of acquaintance and more comprehensive discernment.”
so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ. (1:10)
The knowledge and discernment of verse 9 should enable the Philippians to “approve the things that are excellent” or “distinguish the things that differ.” The emphasis here is on wise and careful discrimination of issues of right and wrong, true and false. Wiersbe writes: “(Paul) prays that they might experience ‘abounding’ love and ‘discerning’ love. Christian love is not blind! The heart and mind work together so that we have discerning love and loving discernment . . . The ability to distinguish is a mark of maturity.”
The word “approve” means “to test” or “put to the test.” It was a word used of testing metals or testing money to prove genuineness. Paul prayed that the Philippian believers be able to apply tests to differences of view and to make spiritual decisions that an immature believer could not make. One commentator beautifully captures the thought of verses 9-10: “May your love increase and abound in ripe knowledge and perceptive power, that you may apply the right tests and reach the right decisions in things which present moral differences” (Vincent).
The purpose or goal of Paul’s prayer in verse 9 was that the Philippians would be “sincere and blameless until the day of Christ.” The only way these believers could be found sincere and blameless would be through the proper exercise of abounding love and discerning love. The word “sincere” means “without wax” or “sine cera.” It was a word used to designate porcelain that was perfect. Cracked porcelain frequently was patched with wax and unsuspecting buyers would not discover the flaw in their purchase until the sunlight melted the wax. Thus some have defined the term “sincere” as meaning “judged in the sunlight.” Honest merchants were always careful to label their wares “sine cera.” When applied to men, the term carries with it the idea of “purity” or “transparency of character” or “perfect openness towards God.” Paul wanted for the Philippian saints to be genuine through and through as well as “blameless” or “giving no offense to others.” This combination of terms, “sincere and blameless”, denote a life rightly related to both God and man.
The term “until the day of Christ” was used by Paul to remind his readers that they should live in such a manner as to be able to stand unashamed before Christ and that the coming of Christ should serve as an incentive to godly living.
Wiersbe proposes two good tests for us to follow as we exercise discernment:
1. Will it make others stumble?
2. Will I be ashamed if Jesus should return?
The Amplified Bible renders Philippian 1:10: “So that you may surely learn to sense what is vital, and approve and prize what is excellent and of real value — recognizing the highest and the best, and distinguishing the moral differences; and that you may be untainted and pure and unerring and blameless, that — with hearts sincere and certain and unsullied — you may (approach) the day of Christ, not stumbling nor causing others to stumble.”
having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. (1:11)
Paul’s prayer now moves to the area of a productive life and service. The fruit of righteousness is the fruit which righteousness produces. Righteousness refers both to being in right standing with God and doing the right things. This in turn leads to the fruit of righteousness which comes only through our union with Christ (see John 15:4-5). It is only as we are in proper union with Christ that the Holy Spirit is able to produce the fruit of the Spirit in us (see Galatians 5:22-23).
Wiersbe identifies the fruit of righteousness as being:
• The fruit of the Spirit…………………………………………..Galatians 5:22-23
• Winning lost souls to Christ………………………………Romans 1:13
• Holiness………………………………………………………………..Romans 6:22
• Service…………………………………………………………………..Colossians 1:10
Our lives should be filled with the fruit of righteousness to the end that God is glorified and praised. (see Matthew 5:16).
The Amplified Bible renders Philippians 1:11: “May you abound in and be filled with the fruits of righteousness (of right standing with God and right doing) which come through Jesus Christ, the Anointed One, to the honor and praise of God — that His glory may be both manifested and recognized.”
Note: Do you know any “Bigger Picture People”? These are the kind of people who turn barricades into bridges and lemons into lemonade! They are the people who are able to joyfully and patiently endure difficult circumstances because they see the bigger picture of how their circumstances fit into the scheme of God’s long-term work. They are people who have a remarkable ability to persist under extreme pressures because their commitment to the bigger picture strengthens their resolve to keep on keeping on. These are people who look upon their circumstances as God-given opportunities for the advancement of the gospel and development of their character. These are people who rejoice at what God is going to do instead of complaining about what God did not do. These are people whose lives command respect, disperse encouragement, and ought to be imitated.
One of the distinguishing marks of “Bigger Picture People” is their ability to see and know that God is at work even in the midst of difficult circumstances. They are people who have learned to trust God with their circumstances, knowing that circumstances can be the raw materials of their greatest discoveries about God. They are people who realize that God is able to use both the sorrows and successes of life in the communication of the gospel and the development of their character. Without question, the Apostle Paul holds a place of honor in the ranks of “Bigger Picture People.”
Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel, (1:12)
In an effort to calm the fears and concerns of the Philippians over his imprisonment, Paul, in verse 12, turns to a discussion of his circumstances. He neither complains nor dwells on the details of life in prison. His greatest concern is with the gospel and its advance. There is a resounding note of optimism in what he writes:
I wish you to know (come to know, learn, or understand) brothers (fellow believers who are members of the same spiritual family by faith in Christ) that my circumstances (that is, recent developments in his case) have turned out rather (in contrast to what might be expected) unto the advancement of the gospel.
Even though Paul was a prisoner, his imprisonment did not end his missionary activity but rather expanded it for himself and for others. His circumstances turned out for the greater progress or advancement of the gospel. The Greek word for advancement (prokope) is a word which was used to describe the progress of an army or expedition. It speaks of the cutting away of trees and undergrowth and of the removal of any barriers which would hinder the progress of an army. Paul’s imprisonment, rather than shutting the door, opened the door to new spheres of work into which he might otherwise never have penetrated. His circumstances served to clear the way for the gospel to advance into new areas.
One of Paul’s greatest desires was to preach the gospel in Rome (see Acts 19:21 and Romans 1:15). He wanted to go there as a preacher but went instead as a prisoner. Yet, it was as a prisoner that he had the marvelous opportunity to introduce the gospel to people and into places he could not have reached in other ways. Someone has said, “Severe obstacles can become divine opportunities.” Warren Wiersbe writes, “God sometimes uses strange tools to help us pioneer the gospel.” And indeed Paul’s circumstances turned out for the greater progress of the gospel. Notice the tools that helped Paul to pioneer the gospel.
Wiersbe writes, “The same God who used Moses’ rod, Gideon’s pitchers, and David’s sling, used Paul’s chains.” In Psalm 119:91b the Psalmist declared, “For all things are Thy servants.” And what a noble purpose was served by Paul’s chains.
so that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else. (1:13)
Notice first that Paul’s chains gave him contact with the lost. He refers to his “imprisonment” or “bonds in Christ” in verse 13. “Bonds” (in verse 13) is “halusis” in the Greek language. Barclay comments, “The ‘halusis’ was the short length of chain by which the wrist of a prisoner was bound to the wrist of the soldier who was his guard, so that escape was impossible.”
Paul was chained to a Roman soldier 24 hours a day! Imagine a Roman soldier being chained to Paul . . . the man who “prayed without ceasing,” whose deepest desire was to share Christ with others, who was always writing letters to people and churches throughout the Roman Empire! Imagine a Roman soldier chained to Paul, listening to him preach, share, talk, and pray with visitors and friends. Is there any doubt that in the long hours Paul would open up a discussion about Jesus with the soldier to whose wrist he was chained? The guards must have quickly realized that Paul was chained to Someone else! We must ask, who was captive to whom? Paul was free in Christ and a prisoner for Christ’s sake.
As a prisoner in a private residence Paul had the privilege of having visitors. As the rotating guards watched over him they were forced to listen to his conversations about Christ as well as witness the quality of his life. Lloyd Ogilvie writes:
The people who are a part of our lives are bonded to us for a reason. The question is: What do they find in us? What is the impact of our lives upon them? Why is it that often people know more about our political point of view, our personal prejudices, and our religious ideas than what it means to experience the adventure of life in Christ?
Paul states in verse 13 that his imprisonment was “in the cause of Christ.” Howard F. Vos comments, “His imprisonment had become known not as a matter of notoriety but as connected with Christ’s cause and endured for Christ’s sake. It was not a result of any breach of law.” Paul was in prison because of his religious convictions and teachings, and this became “the talk of the town,” for Paul states that his imprisonment had become “well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else.”
Although there are several interpretations of the term “praetorian guard,” in this case it should be interpreted as either a reference to the Emperor’s residence or the Praetorian Guard itself, or perhaps, both. The Praetorian Guard was the Imperial Guard of Rome which had been instituted by Augustus. This was an elite body of ten thousand picked troops who served throughout Rome and the neighboring towns. Paul was, most likely, handed over to the Prefect, or commanding officer, of the Praetorian Guard upon his arrival in Rome.
It is wonderful to consider that Paul’s imprisonment opened the way for exposing the finest regiment in the Roman army to the gospel of Christ. Over the period of Paul’s imprisonment, these soldiers came to know Paul and many of them came to know the Christ whom he served.
Paul also adds that his imprisonment in the cause of Christ became known “to everyone else.” This refers to a wide circle in Rome beyond the guard itself. Some scholars believe that it included member’s of the Emperor’s palace staff (see Philippians 4:22). Thus Paul’s chains gave him contact with the lost . . . but they also gave courage to the saved.
and that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear. (1:14)
Notice that Paul’s chains also gave courage to the saved. The Amplified New Testament translates verse 14 as follows:
And (also) most of the brethren have derived fresh confidence in the Lord because of my chains, and are much more bold to speak and publish fearlessly the Word of God — acting with more freedom and indifference to the consequences.
Paul’s confinement resulted in new courage, zeal, and devotion throughout the church of Rome. Perhaps some Christians had lost heart or had failed in their witness or had been unfaithful to the Lord. Perhaps some Christians were fearful of making Christ known because of possible adverse consequences. Whatever the reason, when they heard how Paul bore his imprisonment and saw how the power and grace of God sustained him, they were inspired and stimulated to greater evangelistic activity. “Paul’s victorious spirit and the remarkable way in which the Lord was blessing his witness put starch in their spine, so to speak. They were standing more firmly for Christ than ever before” (Dyet).
Wiersbe comments that the word “speak” in verse 14 does not mean “preach” but rather “everyday conversation.” He writes,
No doubt many of the Romans were discussing Paul’s case, because such legal matters were of primary concern to this nation of law-makers. And the Christians in Rome who were sympathetic to Paul took advantage of this conversation to say a good word for Jesus Christ. Discouragement has a way of spreading, but so does encouragement! Because of Paul’s joyful attitude, the believers in Rome took fresh courage and witnessed boldly for Christ.
God not only used Paul’s chains to advance the gospel, He also used Paul’s critics!
Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife, but some also from good will; the latter do it out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment (1:15-17)
In verse 15, Paul divides the brethren of verse 14 into two groups: those who speak from unworthy motives and those who speak from worthy motives. Paul is not trying to distinguish between believers or heretics or those who are doctrinally correct and those who are in error. The distinguishing issue is correctness of motive. Regarding this matter, Vos writes:
It is clear here that the factious preachers are not proclaiming a false gospel for that would bring no joy to Paul. There is nothing wrong with the substance of their message but rather with the motivation that leads them to preach it. It is important to underscore this point. Paul is absolutely intolerant of heresy which becomes crystal clear from his denunciation of anyone who preaches “another (false) gospel” (cf. Galatians 1:9).
Consider first those who were preaching from unworthy motives: “Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife . . . out of selfish ambition, rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment.” (Philippians 1:15,17). Michael K. Haynes writes, “Paul’s removal from the scene of active ministry (gave) rise to competition for his authority and position.” Perhaps “these men were envious of Paul because God had given him greater gifts and because he had been so successful in his ministry in the capital.” (Vos). What an opportunity to show Paul a thing or two! What an opportunity to take advantage of Paul’s imprisonment to build up a following and gain personal attention and recognition. A. T. Robertson writes, “Envy is a powerful motive in human life.” Paul tells us that envy, strife, and selfish ambition were the driving forces behind the preaching of these men. The word for “selfish ambition” in the Greek is the word “eritheia.” This word refers to a self-seeking, ambitious, and competitive spirit. The Amplified New Testament translates verse 17 as follows:
But the former preach Christ out of a party spirit, insincerely – out of no pure motive, but thinking to annoy me – supposing that they are making my bondage more bitter and my chains more galling.
What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice, yes, and I will rejoice. (1:18)
Paul’s reaction to those who preached from unworthy motives is seen in verse 18. Instead of making life miserable for Paul, his enemies have made him glad. Instead of making his bondage more bitter and his chains more galling, Paul seizes upon the main fact, namely, that Christ is being preached, and instead of resentment his heart is filled with joy. Erdman comments:
There is something superb in this tolerant attitude of the apostle. It is a tolerance born not of indifference but of a burning zeal for Christ. Paul does not rejoice in wrong motives, in “faction and pretence,” but in the fact that in spite of the imperfections in the preachers the gospel is being preached. Paul was large enough to seize upon the salient point in the situation.
It is worth noting and remembering that Paul was chained to a Roman soldier during the course of these events. Paul therefore, guarded his influence by not allowing these factious preachers to make him bitter and resentful. Paul could have easily filled the ears of the Roman soldiers with stories of the shortcomings of these envious preachers — but he did not. Instead we find that Paul was able to see the bigger picture — Christ was being preached! This is what mattered most to Paul. Other things were important in varying degrees, but this was at the top of the list. Paul knew how to put first things first and to keep them there. “One must learn to see things as they are and to find the consolation in the big truths of life in spite of the minor drawbacks.” (Robertson).
Before we leave this point and lest we condemn these preachers too harshly, consider the words of A. T. Robertson:
One may wonder that God should bless at all the message of men with such a spirit. But, after all, we should be glad that our own wrong motives do not wholly hinder the reception of whatever truth is preached to men. The power is from God and not from the preacher, in God’s message and not in the preacher’s heart.
We should also note that while some preached Christ out of selfish ambition, Paul tells us that there were some who preached Christ out of the motivation of “good will,” a desire for the good of others, in this case Paul. These preached out of love, knowing that Paul had been appointed for the defense of the gospel. These people understood that Paul’s authority was from God and that his imprisonment was the result of his faithful service to God rather than of selfish ambition or breaking the law. They knew that Paul had been appointed (positioned) for the defense of the gospel. Thus they demonstrated their love and support for Paul by boldly and sincerely making Christ known.
Thus we see that the gospel was advanced because of Paul’s chains and because of Paul’s critics. Because of his chains, Christ was known (verse 13) and because of his critics, Christ was preached (verse 18). We now turn our attention to verse 19 where we see Christ magnified because of Paul’s confidence.
For I know that this shall turn out for my deliverance through your prayers and the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, (1:19)
In verse 19 we find Paul optimistic and confident in the midst of his circumstances. Paul here expresses his confidence that he will be able to endure and be victorious in his trial because of the Philippian believers’ prayers and the Holy Spirit’s provision and power. Paul was encouraged by the faithful prayers on his behalf by the Philippians. But he was also sustained by the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Paul was certain that all of this would result in his “deliverance” or “salvation.” Vos writes that “salvation” here refers “to the vindication of his stand for Christ and his being saved from disgracing the gospel as he moves through the stages of his trial.” Paul felt that this vindication would come about through the prayers of the Philippians and the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ.
We too, can be “Bigger Picture People” by…
• Considering how our circumstances can be used by God to further the gospel and develop our character.
• Looking for the divine opportunities in obstacles.
• Considering the effectiveness of our witness to those who are bonded to us.
• Trusting God to use adversity for His glory.
Note: If you were asked to select a hymn to describe the way in which you feel about Jesus Christ, which hymn would you select? Why?
If we were to ask the Apostle Paul to answer that question while writing Philippians 1:19-30, he probably would have selected the hymn, “Jesus Is All The World to Me.” For indeed, “Christ covered the entire horizon for Paul, the whole circumference of his interests. Christ filled all of Paul’s eye. Christ was his all and in all.” (Robertson). Surely Paul would gladly declare:
Jesus is all the world to me,
My life, my joy, my all;
He is my strength from day to day,
Without Him I would fall:
When I am sad, to Him I go,
No other One can cheer me so;
When I am sad, He makes me glad,
He’s my friend.
Jesus is all the world to me,
And true to Him I’ll be;
Oh, how could I this friend deny,
When He’s so true to me?
Following Him I know I’m right,
He watches o’er me day and night;
Following Him by day and night,
He’s my friend.
Jesus is all the world to me,
I want no better friend;
I trust Him now, I’ll trust Him when
Life’s fleeting days shall end:
Beautiful life with such a friend,
Beautiful life that has no end;
Eternal life, eternal joy;
He’s my friend.
In verse 19 Paul also expresses his confidence in the fact that the prayers of the Philippian saints along with the provision of the Holy Spirit will sustain him in the midst of his circumstances. Paul was confident that these prayers and provision would result in his “deliverance” or “salvation.” Wiersbe interprets “salvation” as an indication of Paul’s belief that his case would turn out victoriously. Vos comments that “salvation” refers “to the vindication of (Paul’s) stand for Christ and his being saved from disgracing the gospel as he moves through the stages of his trial.”
according to my earnest expectation and hope, that I shall not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ shall even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. (1:20)
In verse 20 Paul continues the thought of verse 19 by expressing his “earnest expectation.” Paul here uses a word for “expectation” that many scholars believe was coined by Paul himself. The word is “apokaradokia” and means “intense expectation, earnest watching.” According to Rienecker/Rogers the word is composed of the preposition “apo” (away), the noun “kara” (head), and the verb “dokein” (to watch), and indicates watching something with the head turned away from other objects to fix on the object of desire. It indicates a concentrated intense hope which ignores other interests and strains forward as with an outstretched head. It is a word which paints a picture of a person in a state of maximum alert. And what was Paul’s earnest expectation? “That I may never feel ashamed but that now as ever I may do honour to Christ in my own person by fearless courage. Whether that means life or death, no matter!” (Moffatt Translation).
Paul’s earnest desire was that he would never be ashamed of the gospel (see Romans 1:16) and that Christ would be glorified and magnified in him, “whether by life or by death.” As Ellicott nobly puts it, Paul was saying, “My body will be the theatre in which Christ’s glory is displayed.” But how can a believer glorify or magnify Christ in his body? Wiersbe comments that a believer can magnify Christ much like a telescope magnifies the distant stars and brings them closer or the microscope magnifies tiny things and makes them look big. For some people Christ may be a distant figure who lived long ago. For others Christ may not seem very big, other things or people being more important. Thus Wiersbe likens the believer’s body to a “lens” that make a “distant Christ” come very close and a “little Christ” look very big. This happens as others watch the believer handle life’s vicissitudes and long-lasting difficulties.
What about us? Is it our earnest desire that Christ be magnified in us? Are there other interests that are the objects of our desire? Can we say along with Paul that our earnest desire is that “even now, as always” others see Jesus in us? Are we careful to guard our influence in the midst of life’s temptations and difficulties that others might see the difference that Christ makes in our lives?
Paul’s earnest expectation is enlarged in verses 21 through 26 where we read . . .
Lloyd Ogilvie refers to these verses as Paul’s parenthesis or “throw-away lines” in which he allows us entrance into the inner chambers of his spirit to consider his life’s purposes and his intimate feelings about Christ. These verses are, in essence, Paul’s personal revelation.
For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. (1:21)
In verse 21 Paul reveals why Christ could be magnified by his life or death . . . “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” In other words, “Living is Christ to me.” Barclay offers the following beautiful commentary on this thought.
For Paul, Christ had been the beginning of life . . .
for on that day on the Damascus road it was as if life began all over again.
Christ had been the continuing of life . . .
there had never been a day when Paul had not lived in His presence, and in the frightening moments Christ had been there to bid him be of good cheer (Acts 18:9-10).
Christ was the end of life . . .
for it was toward His eternal presence that life ever led.
Christ was the inspiration of life . . .
He was the dynamic of life.
To Paul, Christ had given the task of life . . .
for it was He who had made him an apostle and sent him out as the evangelist to the Gentiles.
To him Christ had given the strength for life . . .
for it was Christ’s all-sufficient grace that was made perfect in Paul’s weakness.
For him Christ was the reward of life . . .
for to Paul the only worthwhile reward was close fellowship with his Lord.
If Christ were to be taken out of life, for Paul there would be nothing left.
Indeed Christ was all to Paul. He lived only to serve Christ and had no conception of life apart from Christ. And Paul further emphasized that death, rather than breaking his union with Christ, would usher him into the presence of Christ. That is why Paul said, “and to die is gain.” A. T. Robertson comments, “All that death can do for Paul is to give him more of Christ.” That is precisely why Paul saw death as “gain” and not because it would bring an end to his pain, sorrow, toil, or difficult circumstances. Paul had learned to live with the latter as he expressed in Philippians 4:12. It is worth asking who or what is able to discourage, demoralize, or destroy the man who firmly believes that “to live is Christ, and to die is gain”? What can you do to the man whose philosophy is of life is, “Heads . . . I win! Tails . . . I win!”?
And what about us? What about our philosophy of life and death? Wiersbe points out that verse 21 becomes a valuable test of our lives:
For to me to live is __________ and to die is __________.
(Fill in the blanks yourself.)
For to me to live is money and to die is to leave it all behind.
For to me to live is fame and to die is to be forgotten.
For to me to live is power and to die is to lose it all.
No, we must echo Paul’s convictions if we are going to have joy in spite of the circumstances, and if we are going to share in the furtherance of the Gospel. “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain!”
But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. (1:22)
Verse 22 connects with “to live” in verse 21. Notice that Paul writes of his life “in the flesh” because, as Erdman points out, “when man has left his body of flesh and blood, he will still live, and live indeed more fully and more really.” In verse 22 Paul states that if he goes on living, he will keep on working for God with the assurance that his ministry will be fruitful. Paul knew however, that the choice was not his. If God desired for him to remain he would gladly do so and continue to serve Him faithfully. If however, his work was done, then he had no desire to linger but rather to depart and be with Christ.
But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake. (1:23-24)
Paul elaborates on his struggle in verse 23 by writing that he was “hard-pressed” from both directions. The term “hard-pressed” renders the Greek “senechomai” which means “to hem in on both sides.” Rienecker/Rogers comments that the idea is that of a strong pressure bearing upon him from two sides and keeping him motionless. Although Paul wanted to depart to be with Christ, he knew that the saints in Philippi needed his continued help and encouragement. Paul cared deeply for the saints and churches he had planted (see II Corinthians 11:28).
The word rendered “depart” in verse 23 is a beautiful expression for death. Vos comments:
It is a military term referring to breaking camp or a nautical expression for releasing a ship from its moorings. It may be rendered literally “loosing away upward,” and in contemporary experience could refer to a great balloon or dirigible ready for launching and straining at its cables, waiting to be loosed from its moorings so it could fly away. (But) while Paul may be straining to get away to heaven, there is a heavy weight holding him down: the needs of the believers [see verse 24].
And convinced of this, I know that I shall remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith, so that your proud confidence in me may abound in Christ Jesus through my coming to you again. (1:25-26)
Verse 25 takes us back to the thought of verse 19. Paul realizes that it is more important at the moment for him to remain on earth and expresses the confident conviction that he will “remain and continue” or “bide and abide.” The thought here is “to remain with” and “to remain alongside.” that is, “to wait beside a person ever ready to help.” Barclay comments, “Paul’s desire to live is not for his own sake, but for the sake of those whom he can continue to help.” And in verse 26 Paul further expresses that when he has the opportunity to see the Philippians again, his presence will give them occasion to boast and rejoice in the Lord, for he will be a living testimony of how Christ can sustain a man in and through the worst of circumstances.
Thus, Paul’s earnest expectation and personal revelation lead him to make . . .
In verses 27-30 Paul tells the Philippians that regardless of what happens to them or to him, they must live their lives in a manner worthy of the gospel, or as Barclay writes, “they are to demonstrate in the quality of their lives the glorious worth of the gospel.”
“Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ; so that whether I come to see you or remain absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel; (1:27)
In verse 27 Paul exhorts the Philippians to live their lives in a manner worthy of the gospel or to walk consistently. Paul here uses a word for “conduct” that is related to our word for politics. It is the word “politeuesthe” which means “to behave as citizens.” This is a term that the saints in the Roman colony of Philippi would have no trouble understanding. Barclay captures the thought:
You and I know full well the privileges of being a Roman citizen. You know full well how even in Philippi, so many miles from Rome, you must still live and act as a Roman does. Well then, remember that you have an even higher duty than that. Wherever you are you must live as befits a citizen of the Kingdom of God.
Paul issued a similar exhortation to the Ephesians (4:1) and the Colossians (1:10). And it is an exhortation that we should heed as well, remembering that the world around us knows only the gospel that it sees in our lives. Someone has written:
You are writing a Gospel, a chapter a day,
By the deeds that you do and the words that you say.
Men read what you write, distorted or true:
What is the Gospel according to you?
Paul urges the Philippians to conduct themselves as citizens of God’s kingdom so that regardless of whether he was present with them or not, he might receive a good report of them. Paul expected to hear that they were “standing firm” (from a word which indicates the determination of a soldier who does not budge one inch from his post) “in one spirit, with one mind.” That is to say, Paul wanted to hear that their conduct was marked by “moral steadfastness, and a steadfastness which is at once united and undaunted.” (Erdman).
In the latter part of verse 27 Paul moved from using a political term to exhort the Philippians to walk consistently, to using an athletic term to exhort the Philippians to work cooperatively. Paul exhorted them to strive together for the faith of the gospel. The word for “strive” is “sunathleo” and means “to contend or struggle along with someone.” It is a word which paints a picture of teamwork in an athletic or gladiatorial contest, of “fighting side by side like one man.” By working cooperatively they would be able to both defend and continue to advance the gospel.
in no way alarmed by your opponents — which is a sign of destruction for them, but of salvation for you, and that too, from God. (1:28)
In verse 28 Paul exhorts the Philippians to war confidently. They can do this only as they walk consistently and work cooperatively. Paul wanted them to fight together in a show of united effort, not being alarmed by opposition like a startled animal. The word “alarmed” means “to be startled like a scared horse or fluttered like a surprised bird.” (Robertson). Paul wanted for the Philippians to stand firm and united in the face of antagonism, criticism, and opposition. This kind of confidence, Paul wrote, would reveal that they were under God’s protection and care and would be a sign of destruction for those opposed to God.
For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, experiencing the same conflict which you saw in me, and now hear to be in me. (1:29-30)
In verse 29 Paul reminds his readers that they should view any suffering for Christ’s sake as a privilege. Jesus said, “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you.” (John 15:18). There would indeed be suffering that the Philippians would experience, not because of their sin, but because of their allegiance to Christ and their commitment to the advancement of the Gospel. Paul not only wanted for them to view such suffering as a privilege, but to remember that others also had experienced, were experiencing, and would continue to experience the same suffering (see verse 30). Paul reminded the Philippian saints in verse 30 that they were not alone in the battle by referring to his own suffering. Paul wanted for them to take courage from his example.