Philippians is a book of joy for an anxious church.
Theme similar to Ecclesiastes - we also spoke about joy.
Joy comes from God, not from our stuff or our circumstance.
To a great degree, the Apostle Paul would agree, and he speaks in Philippians about finding contentment in whatever circumstance, which speaks to a learned skill from accepting the lot God gives.
But we should be careful here, because it is surely true in our experience that we do find joy in people, things and circumstance. “How sweet to hold a newborn baby and feel the pride and joy he gives.” Holding your loved ones, relaxing after a hard days work. Hamburgers. :)
However, the message of Ecclesiastes does not deny that there are some circumstances from which we might find joy or reason to rejoice, but again, joy is not to be found in the temporal, fleeting, trivial matters, but in things that last, and if we try to extract joy from the breath, we will be left unsatisfied.
The apostle Paul would agree. In the book of Phillippians, in writing to that anxious church, Paul writes about the things that bring him joy. Last week Paul shared his gratitude and the joy that he has found in the Philiipians partnership in the gospel. And today, he will speak of another matter that brings him joy. And again, that which brings him joy is not in temporal, fleeting, trivial matters, but connected to the eternal matter of the gospel of Christ.
What is the gospel? The gospel is the proclamation of good news. The good news of what God has done for us in Christ. That thought our sins have separated us from God and have placed us under God’s just wrath, that God in his love for us sent his son Jesus Christ into the world that we might be reconciled to God, redeemed from our sins, and renewed by the power of the Holy Spirit. This is surely not a temporal, fleeting, or trivial matter, but is the most important, substantial and eternal of matters. As I stated last week, Paul has given his life to the gospel, lives for the gospel, and as we’ll see today, Paul’s Joy-Producing Metric: The Gospel is Advancing. What I mean by metric is that this is the standard of measurement against which he measures the circumstances in his life and that even through the difficulties of life, if the gospel is advancing, Paul finds joy.
Phil. 1:12 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.
Phil. 1:15 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 defense of the gospel. 17 The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. 18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.
Through Imposed Constraints: The Gospel is Advancing.
Phil. 1:12 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.
Paul first was able to find joy and encourage the Philippians to find joy in the fact that even within the constraints of his imprisonment, the gospel was advancing. The mention of the imperial guard suggest that this is indeed the Roman imprisonment mentioned at the end of the book of Acts. Now, at least a the beginning of that imprisonment, Paul had substantial liberty and opportunity to welcome guests and teach them as he was under house arrest. At the point of writing Philippians, it seems as though his circumstances have changed a bit, as he seems to be nearing a possible execution. However, even in a darkening circumstance, Paul gives thanks that the gospel is spreading even among his captors. It is becoming known through the entire imperial guard that this man is in prison, not as a thief or a murderer, but as a prisoner for Christ.
Paul is in prison for preaching Christ yes. However, if this imprisonment is indeed the Roman imprisonment that most scholars believe that it is, then there is an even more provocative realty: that Paul is in prison for preaching Christ, but because he has appealed to Caesar.
Acts 26:32 And Agrippa said to Festus, “This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.”
That is, that his imprisonment was in a sense of his own doing, because he was convinced that the Holy Spirit was sending him to Rome. That’s how Paul’s journey to Rome is presented in the Book of Acts: the Holy Spirit directing Paul to Rome through the mechanisms of the Roman justice system.
And so, Paul was not only a prisoner for Christ in the sense that it was his preaching of Christ that got him arrested, but his imprisonment was for Christ in the sense that he understood that Christ had led in into this place of constraint.
Every job, every calling, every vocation has its opportunities and its limitations. You get hired by a job - no you work side-by-side with coworkers every day shining your life before them, but obviously the job put constraints on your time, energy and activity. You find a spouse! Great, fine and good, but you lose some freedom. Paul recognizes this reality:
1Cor. 7:32 I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. 33 But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, 34 and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband.
You’re called to be a parent, what an opportunity for the gospel! What a small little disciple God has given you to instruct and shape, but yes, that gift constrains you. You may be constrained by sickness, by age, I think of Tony who can’t hear so well, be he evangelizes and counsels people by text on the internet. If you are living for the gospel, even the constraint of death death can serve to advance the gospel, as we often hear the gospel proclaiming loudly at the funeral of the Christian.
And so Paul’s words here would encourage and instruct us in two ways: first to understand and discern our individual circumstances and callings as given to us by the Lord for the advancement of the gospel, and then to rejoice when God uses our circumstances and callings to advance the gospel.
THROUGH EMBOLDENED FRIENDS: The Gospel is Advancing.
The constraint of Paul’s imprisonment had an impact on two groups of people, Paul’s friends and Paul’s rivals. First, Paul share with the Philippians the impact his imprisonment has had on his friends.
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 … 16 [they] do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel.
Paul is able to find joy in the advancement of the Gospel. It seems that his imprisonment inspired the other Christians around Paul to become more bold in their faith. They saw how Paul found joy in his constraints and how he lived for the gospel even as he was imprisoned, and they took all the more advantage of their freedom.
Now a natural human reaction when we are confronted with the constraints of our situation is to look to the freedoms within which we see others operate and become jealous. We’ve got little children and are a little more isolated and not able to join into some of the meetings of the church or have time to develop meaningful relationships, and we can become envious of our friends. Or we’re single and we see married couples serving together and we begin to despise our constraints. Or we’re married and we see the freedom and spontaneity or single friends possess and we can become envious. We’re in a job and looking for other opportunities.
Because Paul’s metric was is the gospel advancing he was able to rejoice in the callings and circumstances of those with greater freedom than himself without becoming envious because he was too busy rejoicing in his friends boldness to speak of the Lord. The gospel is advancing - I am happy for you!
Lest He Become Bitter At His Rivals, Paul’s Joy Was Found in This: The Gospel is Advancing.
On the other hand, Paul it seems had some rivals that were taking advantage of his imprisonment in order to expand their own influence over the church.
Phil. 1:15 Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry … [They] proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. 18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.
On the other hand, Paul it seems had some rivals that were taking advantage of his imprisonment in order to expand their own influence over the church. Some people think these may have been Judaisers, people who preached that Gentiles had to follow Jewish customs in order to be saved. I don’t think they are Judaisers because Paul calls that “another gospel”, and accursed gospel, in Galatians, but here Paul rejoices that the gospel is still being preached. So these are people preaching the gospel, but out of envy and to hurt Paul, and sadly there are people like this in the church today. Ambitious people seeking their own Kingdom, people hungry for control and seeking to accumulate prestige and control in church. Paul believes that these men are trying to hurt him, but can find joy - because even though they are rivals to him, he does not see them as his rivals, and thus cannot become bitter.
The metric of joy in Paul’s life - is the gospel advancing? How about yours?
Is the gospel the greatest source of joy in your life?
Is the advancement of the gospel the greatest ambition of your life?