Worthy of the Gospel
When Paul wrote to the Philippians he was confined to prison, awaiting his hearing before Caesar (see Acts 23:11; 25:9-12; 26:32). Although he was chained to a soldier at all times, he was able to write letters, have visitors, and boldly proclaim the gospel (28:30-31). During this time Paul’s suffering served to advance the gospel throughout the entire imperial guard, as well as all associated with it (Phil. 1:13). But he was also a witness to his fellow Christians in Rome. As they witnessed Paul’s boldness while in chains, their boldness grew to proclaim the gospel in Rome without fear. They learned that God could turn even prison into a place of gospel advancement. When your present circumstances are not ideal, remember that God often leaves us where we’re at for the advance of His gospel.
Suffering to Advance the Gospel
Sadly, there were some believers who were glad Paul was imprisoned (Phil. 1:15, 17). Even though their message was the same as Paul’s message, their motives were not. They were envious of Paul’s gifts, so instead of partnering with him, they were glad he was imprisoned. It is remarkable, then, that Paul is able to rejoice that their message of the gospel is going forth. Regardless of their motives, he rejoiced that Christ was being proclaimed.
Not all were envious of Paul. There were some who preached Christ “from good will” and “out of love,” recognizing Paul was imprisoned for “the defense of the gospel,” and wanting to partner in truth with him (Phil. 1:15-16). This is the example we should follow. Plead with the Lord to purify your motives, especially when you see envy and rivalry in your heart. Ask Him to keep you faithful to proclaim Christ. Ask Him to help you partner with others for the gospel instead of competing with them.
Serving Others for their Growth in the Gospel
Paul’s mission in life was to make Christ known. Through his words he proclaimed Christ and by his works he adorned its proclamation. Although Paul couldn’t worship alongside the church members in Rome on Sunday while he was imprisoned, he wasn’t completely isolated from the church. Members could visit him, and he was encouraged and strengthened by the Philippians’ prayers for him (Phil. 1:19). Never underestimate the power of your prayers for those serving Christ.
Paul didn’t just need the Philippians’ prayers; he also needed “the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:19). He wanted to stand before Caesar and boldly proclaim truth. Regardless of the outcome, he wanted to honor Christ. For Paul, “to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (v. 21). But although his deepest desire was to be with Christ, Paul was convinced that staying to serve the Philippians for their progress and joy in the faith was both necessary and beneficial. Like Paul, we must learn to serve others for their growth in the gospel. Instead of choosing our own plans and possessions, comfort and convenience, power and prestige, the gospel calls us to sacrifice for the sake of those around us.
Striving Side by Side for the Faith of the Gospel
Paul’s great desire was for the Philippians’ “manner of life” to be “worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Phil. 1:27). They are citizens of heaven and soldiers of Christ. Therefore, there should be unity with fellow believers. Whether at home with one’s spouse and children, or worshiping and serving alongside the church family, believers should be “standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel” (v. 27). Such unity can only come from the power of the Holy Spirit working within us. Paul knew that there were rifts in the Philippian church from within that were causing division (see, for example, 4:2-3). Such disunity is costly, especially when there’s so much opposition from without. They must strive for harmony. Also, believers should not be frightened by their opponents (Phil. 1:28). Just as soldiers stand firm in battle, they are to stand firm in their salvation. By speaking the truth without fear, they give evidence of the fact that God has saved them. Their opponents, however, reveal that they are headed for eternal destruction, if they do not repent and believe in Jesus.
Both salvation and suffering are gifts from God. We don’t choose our salvation and we don’t choose our suffering. God saves us by grace alone and this same grace enables us to persevere in the suffering He chooses for us. Like Paul, the Philippians would suffer for Christ’s sake. You and I will too. The conflict believers face is the same, even though the circumstances might be different. Therefore, put on the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the gospel shoes of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit (Eph. 6:10-17). Submit your suffering to Christ, asking Him to use it to sanctify you and advance the gospel of Christ. Serve others, asking God to use it for their growth in the gospel. And strive beside other believers for the faith of the gospel, asking God to use your manner of life to showcase the gospel. Who knows, that situation you desperately want to be delivered from right now, might just serve to advance the gospel.
Sarah Ivill (ThM, Dallas Theological Seminary) is a Reformed author, wife, homeschooling mom, Bible study teacher, and conference speaker who lives in Matthews, North Carolina, and is a member of Christ Covenant Church (PCA). To learn more, please visit www.sarahivill.com.