Last week we looked at Paul’s introduction in the letter to the Philippians. This letter began with joy in Paul’s heart towards the Philippians as we read in Philippians 1:8:
8 For God is my witness, how I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.
As well as his prayer for the spiritual maturity of those at Philippi in Philippians 1:9–10:
9 And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, 10 so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ;
Not to mention his confidence in the Philippians that they would continue in good works empowered by the Spirit of God in Philippians 1:6:
6 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.
Now in verses 12-26 Paul begins to give the Philippians encouragement to be embolden in their faith. Let’s examine Paul’s example as a mature believer speaking of his joy in spite of his circumstances.
12 Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel, 13 so that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else, 14 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. 15 Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife, but some also from good will; 16 the latter do it out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; 17 the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment. 18 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, 19 for I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayers and the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, 20 according to my earnest expectation and hope, that I will not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.
As I read these verses I can’t help but to think, here is a mature believer who is strong in the faith and who truly puts Christ first above all things. Paul is not only bringing news to the Philippians of his situation but, more importantly, he is bringing news that God is working mightily in this terrible situation. Yes, Paul could have complained about his situation as he had been wrongly beaten and imprisoned; however, he did not complain. Rather, he looked joyfully at this situation from God’s perspective. How could Paul be joyful in such a harsh situation, especially one where he did no wrong?
If I am honest with myself, could I be even a fraction as joyful as Paul? I mean, we are supposed to be joyful at all times. The gospel of Jesus Christ gives us a reason for our joy when we read it in light of our own sinfulness. Joy is even one of the fruit of the Spirit, Galatians 5:22:
22B ut the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,…
So why was it so easy for Paul to have immense joy in his situation? The answer to this question is sprinkled throughout verses 12-20.
Paul’s imprisonment was bad (and I should make a point to say how absolutely terrible his situation really was here: the beatings, the painful chains he was in, the unbearable environment of a prison, etc.) but notice that he says his situation has turned out for the greater progress of the gospel. Paul’s number one mission was to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ to others, and his situation was allowing for the gospel to be shared with others in a more powerful way than if Paul had not been imprisoned. Paul wanted the gospel to be shared and this proved to be a powerful way to progress the gospel indeed.
Paul also goes on to say that others have been emboldened to preach Christ seeing that his imprisonment has been a catalyst in spreading the word of God. One of Paul’s priorities was to raise up other pastors and elders that could preach the word of God boldly. Now Paul was seeing fruit born from his imprisonment whereby others were preaching exactly as they should…boldly. The gospel of Jesus Christ was effectively reaching others who might never have heard the gospel if not for Paul’s imprisonment in a powerful way.
Granted, not all those who were embolden to preach Christ did it for the right reasons. Paul says there were those that preached Christ for selfish reasons, perhaps to make themselves look more righteous than Paul. The words “envy and strife” show the attitude of those who preached Christ but spoke ill of Paul. They meant to cause Paul harm. But did they? No, Paul had the irrepressible joy as one wholly and completely aligned with the will of God. This joy came from Paul’s desire to see Jesus lifted up as the perfect lamb, the one slain for our righteousness and the only one that can save.
In verse 18 Paul makes a bold statement that regardless of the attitude of the one preaching, Christ is still preached! Paul didn’t look at the preachers; he was looking at the one preached of…Christ. That and that alone gave him reason to rejoice. In fact, Paul says that he will rejoice twice, “…I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice.” This repetition of “rejoicing” and the present and future tense of the word show us Paul’s complete and continuous state of joy.
Paul’s eyes were truly on Christ and not on his situation. This is something I know I need to work on more in my life. I tend to view situations in a way that starts to blot out Christ. It’s as if when a bad situation happens it starts to eclipse the light of Christ. But this was not so with Paul. He kept his eyes on Christ at all times. This enabled him to have unbounded joy in all circumstances. So why do we see so many believers who are not joyful like Paul? Perhaps it is because we have taken our eyes off of Christ, if even for a second. Perhaps we all need to work harder to be more and more mature in the faith (more Christ-like) as Paul was doing.
I’ve heard it explained that you can look at God through the lens of your problems or you can look at your problems through the lens of God. If we view God through the lens of our problems we will see a tarnished God, one who isn’t strong enough or merciful enough to rid us of our problems. Obviously, we know God is omnipotent and full of mercy but our problems tarnish that image of God. We are simply focusing on our problems and projecting them onto God. But if we turn it around and look at our problems through the lens of an infinitely caring and loving Father, our problems seem to get smaller and smaller until all we can see is God. Granted, looking at our problems through the lens of God doesn’t come naturally with our sinful nature. It’s not easy when we’re in pain or going through a crisis. But day-by-day if we can adjust our perspective in small ways to put God first and view all of our problems through who He is, then little-by-little we can mature and grow in our faith resulting in the ability to take a step back and realize that all things work together for good (His good) to those that love the Lord who have been called according to His purpose…Romans 8:28.
We are all being sanctified (made more and more holy) as we live our lives according to Christ. Paul was definitely farther along in his sanctification than I am. But that’s ok; God is still working in my life and moulding me into the image of Christ. Knowing this I too can say, “I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice!”
21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22 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. 23 But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; 24 yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that your proud confidence in me may abound in Christ Jesus through my coming to you again.
These 6 verses are some of the most profound verses concerning life and death from Paul. As a believer we have only two things to look forward to: that which is great and that which is greater still! To live life as a believer is to live as one who not only grows closer to Christ but also progresses the gospel of Christ. This always bears fruit (even if we don’t see the fruit as it is born) and gives us a reason to be filled with joy. However, to die, well, that is greater still. In death we go to be with our Savior for all eternity. All our troubles here on earth have ended.
I remember my mom when reading these verses. She was a powerhouse of the faith. She had MS and macular degeneration and because of this was physically frail. However, her faith grew stronger daily. Her faith was something tangible that you could sense even after only spending a few short minutes with her. But you could see the same joy that we read was in Paul. This same joy that is a fruit of the Spirit. Truly, she was one who rejoiced in the Lord and in doing so lived out the verse, “to live is Christ and to die is gain”.
You see, my mom was wholly committed to Christ in her life. Everywhere she went and to whomever she spoke with her actions and her speech were thoroughly seasoned with the salt of the gospel. But even though her body was failing her, especially later in life, she never worried about death or leaving this world. To her, living meant pursuing in earnest her teaching as a leader in the women’s Bible Study Fellowship group she led. It meant being a light to others in her daily life. It meant speaking Christ to her family in order to give us peace and hope in life and in our trials.
But she knew the day was drawing near where she would finally be free of her earthly problems and be able to see her Savior face-to-face. Truly death’s sting for her was nowhere to be found. I imagine she had the same desires as Paul has here. The desire to depart and be with Christ for all eternity and the desire to remain for her family’s sake, for her Bible study member’s sake, and for the sake of those who do not know Christ. However, even though I miss her deeply, it was God’s perfect timing that she depart and be with Christ.
There is an interesting result of one who dedicates their life for Christ, that of the funeral. I have never been to a funeral where the hope in death was so overwhelmingly obvious. To be sure, I was exceedingly sad at losing my mom as was everyone in attendance. But we all knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that while her body was here, her spirit was at that moment rejoicing with our Lord.
It is as if we could all hear those words we long to hear from Jesus being said to her at that moment, “well done, good and faithful servant.”