Philippians 1:12-18a


Inspirational perspective on life

By: Scott Grant


‘Never mind me’


            In the original Star Trek television series, Captain Kirk would often find himself in dire straits. Sometimes he would lose communication with the Enterprise. When someone would re-establish contact with him and ask concerning his well-being, he would invariably answer, “Never mind me! What about my ship?”

            Although I hesitate to compare the Apostle Paul to Captain Kirk, Paul’s perspective on life was similarly focused. If someone inquired as to his well being, we might picture him saying, “Never mind me! What about the gospel?” His passion in life was to advance the gospel, to declare to the world the glorious reign of Jesus Christ and to see people bow to him. Paul didn’t seem to worry so much about the dire straits he found himself in as long as the gospel was being advanced.

            The passage before us today is an invitation for us to adopt Paul’s perspective on life. Paul’s story serves as inspiration for us to evaluate everything that happens to us in light of the advance of the gospel.


            Philippians 1:12-18a:

            [12] Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. [13] As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. [14] Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.

            [15] It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. [16] The latter do so in love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. [17] The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. [18] But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.


What happens to Paul


            Paul has been imprisoned by the Roman authorities for preaching the gospel. Although it would seem that imprisoning such a leader would impede the advance of the gospel, Paul reports that it has had the opposite effect.

            The gospel has advanced in two ways. First, the reason for Paul’s imprisonment has become clear, both to those charged with guarding Paul and to others where he is being held. Second, followers of Jesus in the city where he is imprisoned are “speaking the word of God,” which he defines as preaching, or proclaiming, the gospel of Jesus Christ. The gospel has advanced in that non-believers have become aware of Christ and that believers are proclaiming Christ.

            Paul doesn’t report any conversions. The gospel will do its own work. We can therefore be thankful anytime someone becomes aware of Christ or any time that Christ is proclaimed, regardless of how people respond.

            Paul’s imprisonment, intended to frighten followers of Jesus, has actually served to inspire them. They’ve been inspired to trust in the Lord and have thereby found more courage. Although the risk has become greater as they have become bolder, they are proclaiming the gospel without fear. They are willing to be imprisoned for the sake of Christ, just like Paul.

            Although Paul has been imprisoned, the gospel is walking forward, unhindered. Paul’s imprisonment is, literally, “in Christ,” the Messiah, the Jewish king. The brothers (and sisters) who are proclaiming Christ are trusting in the Lord. Caesar would claim the titles king and lord. The Roman king and lord, the apparent king and lord of the whole world, could imprison the primary preacher of the gospel, but the gospel nevertheless was marching forward to penetrate the palace guard, where Caesar’s power resides. It’s a war between kings, a war between lords; and the Jewish King and Lord, the true King and Lord of all creation, is winning in a very strange way.


What happens to us


            The kings and lords of the earth would imprison the gospel, but it will not be imprisoned, and just as it advanced through what happened to Paul, it will advance through what happens to us. Paul specifically tells his readers that he wants them to know about how the gospel has advanced because of his imprisonment. The reason he wants them to know is so that they can learn from what has happened to him. They live in Philippi, a Roman colony, and they are also facing persecution (Philippians 1:28-30). God specifically inspired Paul to write this so that we, too, would know of Paul and learn from his example.

            Paul describes what has happened to him. He’s been imprisoned. What has happened to you? Has your journey been an easy walk in the park, or have there been some confining parts that have made you feel as if you’re in a prison? The evil one aims to imprison us, if not physically then emotionally, if not obviously for faith in Jesus than secretly for faith in Jesus. Perhaps you feel as if you’ve been imprisoned by a culture that marginalizes followers of Jesus and seemingly keeps you from wanting the right things.

            If you’re in a prison of some kind, you should be on the edge of your seat to watch how God uses your circumstances to advance the gospel. Perhaps you’ve already seen the gospel advance in some way. Perhaps others have seen you suffer and cling to Christ. Perhaps others have been or will be encouraged by your faith and tell others about Jesus. Perhaps your prison experience has taken you to a dark place where you saw the brightness of Jesus more clearly and others have been drawn to the light they see in you. Perhaps what happens to you will serve to inspire others. There’s no telling how the hand of God will transform your “imprisonment” into the advance of the gospel. Be on the lookout for such transformations, for when you see one, you’re seeing the hand of God, and you’re seeing yourself as his instrument.

            When I was in my mid 20s, a knee injury I suffered as a teen-ager began to bother me. My biggest passion when I was younger was sports. You name it, I played it. Into my mid 20s I continued to play in various leagues. But as my knee caused me more pain, I had to curtail my activity. I could not do what I wanted to do. I felt as if I were in a prison. And then I had to figure out what I was going to do with the time that I previously spent on the field or in the gym. That’s when I started studying the scriptures. That’s when I began teaching Bible studies. I’ve been studying and teaching and preaching ever since. Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel.

            We see in verses 12 through 14 that the gospel advances through Paul’s imprisonment. In verses 15 through 18a, we see how he values the advance of the gospel.


Stupefying response


            For Paul, the advance of the gospel (verse 12) takes place as the word is spoken (verse 14), which he further defines as preaching, or proclaiming or announcing, Christ (verses 15, 17 and 18). For Paul, the content of the gospel is the person of Christ. Paul speaks here not of proclaiming Jesus but proclaiming Christ. “Christ” is the Greek translation of the Hebrew “Messiah,” a kingly title. When the gospel is proclaimed, the reign of Jesus Christ is proclaimed.

            Although brothers and sisters have risen to preach the gospel in Paul’s place, the motives of some of them are less than pure. Some preach out of goodwill, love for Paul, sincerity and true motives. Others perceive Paul to be a rival and have reacted to his imprisonment in a different way. They’ve sensed an opportunity to discredit Paul and leap past him. They preach out of envy, rivalry, selfish ambition and false motives. Perhaps they view Paul’s imprisonment as God’s judgment on him. They are hoping that their success will make Paul jealous. Those who preach because they love Paul “know” that he has been appointed by God for the defense of the gospel. Those who preach because they consider Paul a rival only “suppose” that they can stir up trouble for Paul.

            The plan to imprison Paul backfired. It was designed to contain the gospel but instead advanced it. The plan of those who preach Christ out of rivalry also backfires. They were hoping to trouble Paul. Instead, he rejoices. The way in which Christ is preached doesn’t seem to concern him, even if that way is aimed at causing him difficulty. What concerns him is the advance of the gospel, and if that comes at the expense of his own reputation, so be it. It can’t be that he enjoys being treated in this way. It’s just that the advance of the gospel is more important to him than how he’s treated.

            In verses 12 to 14 we saw that Paul seemed unconcerned with the difficulties of his imprisonment in light of the advance of the gospel. Such an outlook is remarkable. In verses 15 to 18, we see that Paul seems unconcerned that others see him as a rival and are hoping to defeat him, so to speak, and kick him when he’s down. He’s not only unconcerned by such a turn of events, he rejoices because of them. Such an outlook is stupefying.


A change in values


            Again, Paul is telling his own story in order to be instructive. Some in the city where he is imprisoned are preaching Christ out of “selfish ambition.” Later in this letter he tells the Philippians to do nothing out of “selfish ambition” (Philippians 2:3). His own story shows them how they should respond and how they shouldn’t respond. How should we respond?

            Let’s say you’re a manager for a company. One of the managers of another group is a consummate back stabber and stair climber. There’s nothing he wouldn’t stoop to, or no one he wouldn’t step over, to get where he’s going. You’ve worked hard to make your group and your company successful. One day you’re called into your manager’s office and he has some bad news for you. He says you’re group is being taken over by the back stabber and that your services are no longer needed. You’re fired. The back stabber begins leading your former group and tells everyone what a crummy manager you were and that the company will be more successful without you. And you say, “But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, the company is successful. And because of this I rejoice.”

            Well, you probably don’t say this. You could only say this if the success of the company were more important than your feelings and your reputation. How about the advance of the gospel? How important is that to us? If I was thrown in prison for preaching Christ, and someone took my place and began preaching Christ and bad-mouthing me at the same time, will you find me rejoicing? I have to confess: I think I’m more concerned with my feelings and my reputation than the advance of the gospel. I think I’m more concerned with my name than the name of Christ. I’m more inclined to rejoice at my advancement than the advancement of the gospel.

            What’s wrong with me? My values are misplaced. How do I bring myself to value the right things? Once upon a time, Paul’s values were misplaced as well. Earlier in his life, he was the one who was imprisoning followers of Jesus (Acts 9:2). God had to strike him blind before he realized that he had been blind all along — that his values were upside down (Acts 9:1-19). Paul was on the road to Damascas to imprison followers of Jesus when he came to understand that he was on the wrong road. Is there anything in this passage that makes you think that your values are misplaced? Is there anything that makes you think you’re on the wrong road? God probably isn’t striking any of us blind today, but is he perhaps showing us that we have been blind — that we have been on the road to personal advancement instead of the road to gospel advancement? If so, that’s a start. It’s the place Paul started. If we want to change what we value, we must begin with the realization that our values are skewed and with prayers that God would change our hearts.


Desire for joy and courage


            What else in this passage encourages us to change our perspective on life so that we view it through the lens of the gospel?

            We see Paul filled with joy, despite his circumstances, because the gospel advances. The advance of the gospel causes him joy. We know that the gospel will advance. Jesus is Lord of all creation, and one day all creation will know it and he will vanquish every speck of evil. If we value the advance of the gospel, we will rejoice when we see glimpses of Jesus defeating evil and we will jump out of our skins when we see him finish the job (1 Corinthians 15:24-28). If you want joy, place supreme value on the advance of the gospel.

            There are other examples in this passage besides Paul. Those who were inspired by Paul and proclaimed the gospel courageously and fearlessly also serve as examples. Do you want to become courageous and fearless? We use fear to protect us from things that we think will do us harm. The way to deal with fear is to find something that’s worth the risk you take in exposing yourself to whatever you think will harm you. In order to be courageous, you have to find something worth being courageous for. For the people inspired by Paul, that thing was the advance of the gospel.

            Something changed for the brothers and sisters of verse 14. Something can change for us as well. Triggered by Paul’s imprisonment, they, literally, “trusted in the Lord” and found greater courage. Perhaps something will trigger you to trust in the Lord. Paul’s story, the stories of these brothers and sisters or the story of a modern-day Paul may be such a trigger.

            Look at these stories. Do you want this kind of life? Are you tired of deadness? Are you tired of fear? Do you feel a desire for joy and courage welling up in you? Does it feel as if a trigger is being pulled? When the trigger is pulled, you are propelled toward the Lord. He shows you what’s important. Your values begin to change. You embrace the gospel as your cause. You rejoice when the gospel advances. You find that the gospel is greater than what causes you fear. And the Lord sends you out with greater courage borne out of greater trust, and you proclaim in word and deed that Jesus is Lord.


The gospel is it


            Give your heart to the gospel. Hitch your box car to a train that’s going somewhere, and enjoy the ride.

            Some of you may not yet believe the gospel at all, but perhaps you want to believe in something that’s worth  more than what you’re believing in now — something that will inspire you, fill you with joy and lift you out of your fear. The gospel is it. Jesus is Lord. Give your life to him.


SCG / 11-11-01

Scripture is taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. All rights reserved throughout the world. Used by permission of International Bible Society.

NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION® and NIV® are registered trademarks of International Bible Society. Use of either trademark for the offering of goods or services requires the prior written consent of International Bible Society.