We tend to equate joy with good things we accomplish or good things that happen to us—a promotion, a new relationship, a fun vacation, a long-awaited purchase, a healthy bank account. Most of us consider these good personal circumstances as “wins” that serve as the basis of our joy. But true joy is less circumstantial. Paul was not looking back on a hard time in his life with sudden insight about what God had done. He wrote the letter to the Philippians from prison. Difficult circumstances were still upon him, and there was no solution in sight. Yet Paul didn’t complain about it. He understood that his imprisonment was not outside God’s sovereign control, and rejoiced because his imprisonment advanced the gospel. Paul’s animating purpose was the spread of the glory of God in Christ. His mission did not change based on his circumstance. He would preach the gospel of the Jewish Messiah to Gentiles wherever God placed him. Paul’s imprisonment gave courage to other Christians to proclaim Christ more boldly. The advance of the gospel is the responsibility of the church, “the brothers.” Jesus commanded us to advance the gospel (Matthew 28:19-20). And Jesus promised us that the gospel will advance (Matthew 16:15-18). So, even in our fears and difficulties, we can be encouraged to proclaim Christ in whatever circumstances we find ourselves. The faithful proclamation of Christ advances the gospel—whether or not people immediately repent and believe.
Evidently, some believers were jealous of Paul and took advantage of his imprisonment to advance their own ministries—in opposition to Paul’s. Sadly, we see similar kinds of impure motives in Christian ministry today. Certainly this self-serving behavior would have grieved Paul. But he understood that because God is sovereign, even impure, sinful motives cannot hinder the gospel’s advance. God would be glorified, the Philippians would pray, the Holy Spirit would help, and, ultimately, Paul would be vindicated. In this, Paul could rejoice. And we should rejoice. Paul knew—because of the prayers of the Philippians and the help of the Holy Spirit—he would not deny Christ before Caesar. Instead, he would have the courage to boldly proclaim Christ, whether by life or by death—faithful witness in prison and before Caesar or faithful martyrdom at the hands of Caesar. Paul’s focus was not the glory of self—it was the glory of God in Jesus Christ. His focus was not the progress of self—it was the progress of the gospel. His focus was not avoiding temporary displeasures—it was realizing eternal treasures. So he was willing to continue to suffer if the gospel would advance through him. Part of that gospel advancement would take place as the Philippians followed Paul’s example. It also takes place as we, today, follow that same example.
This content was excerpted from the Philippians Bible study session two. Find out more about the study here! https://www.lifeway.com/studyphilippians