12 I want you to know, brothers,[e] 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[f] 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[g] without fear.
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 defence of the gospel. 17 The former proclaim Christ out of rivalry, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. 18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretence or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.
Duck Dynasty, Putin, and Paul
The Philippians have obviously heard that Paul is in prison and have some ideas about what it might mean. They think that it might be bad news for Paul or for the gospel. Why would that be? Being in chains may hinder the ability of a preacher to communicate their message. It may cause people to turn their backs on a truth that can get you arrested. On the contrary, though. Paul has two reasons why seeming hardship can be turned into something good. Firstly, the guard who looks after Paul in prison has now heard the gospel and talks about the strange reason Paul is imprisoned. Many would be imprisoned for reasons we would imprison people today. Paul might be in jail with swindlers, thieves, or violent men and women. However, he is in jail because he has a message to communicate. That message has spread around the jail like wildfire. Secondly, his being in jail has not discouraged other preachers but has spurred them on. Others either look to show the same fervour as Paul, with a competitive spirit, or they look to live up to the high standards of dedication that Paul has set.
It was usual for a person to lay out their concerns in a letter after transitioning with the words, “I want you to know …” They would usually talk about their own circumstances. However, rather than whine about his own hardships or lay out his own needs, Paul talks about the health of the gospel. The gospel is doing well and that is all that matters. Paul’s identity is not wrapped up in his own bodily needs or wants, his identity is wrapped up in the good news about Jesus.
Many missionaries through the ages have written back letters to their supporting churches. Sometimes they will lay out a catalogue of their needs and their physical condition. I wouldn’t condemn them for that. However, often the focus is not on what they need or want, but the emphasis is on what God is doing in their circumstances. Yes, they might have been ill, but they had a chance to talk to the doctor about God. Surely, they were harassed by the authorities, but those around them saw their faith and resolve and were encouraged. What is our life about? What is it essentially that we want others to know?
If we are like Paul, each hardship or each victory is an opportunity to communicate something about Jesus. Our success is not measured by how well we did on a test, or whether our bodies were clear of disease. Our success is measured by whether we used the circumstances to communicate about Jesus. Right now there is controversy about what a member of the Duck Dynasty said about homosexuals. He made reference to God and the Bible in his comments. On the T.V. a commentator from the Huffington Post made a boneheaded comment about how the Bible has promoted slavery, polygamy, and exclusion of various social groups. We can despair about how people have a superior attitude as they spout ignorant words, or we can see that there is opportunity to talk about biblical values and godly living because the word of God is in the media. Difficult circumstances bring opportunities and like Paul we can say of Duck Dynasty, or President Putin’s recent claims that Russia upholds Christian values better than the west, “I want you to know” that what could have been destructive to the way of truth has really served as opportunity to bring the truth to light. In a world darkened by directionless immorality, the ancient standards that have underpinned society are once more in public debate.
Given the opportunity are you going to shy away from the possibility of personal attack, or will you see the opportunity to speak truth?
In these turbulent days where the slide away from truth could lead to despair, help us to see opportunity to question the wisdom of our culture. Thank you that there is opportunity to speak about biblical truth when there is vocal opposition to the ancient truths it conveys.
- What calamity has Paul’s imprisonment threatened to bring?
- What has Paul’s imprisonment brought about?
- Why might the Philippians rejoice?
- What threats are there to the gospel in the western world?
- How can these threats be opportunities for you personally?
- What are your thoughts about the comments of Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson?