Gospel Advance Through Circumstances

Philippians 1:12-18 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.

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.

Good morning. If you are a visitor, welcome. If you haven’t been here in a while, welcome back. If you weren’t in Sunday School this morning, we have the Pineault family with us today. They are one of the missionary families that we support and they are back from Panama. I would encourage you that If you haven’t had a chance to greet them or meet them for the first time, please do so after service. Nate, Christina, Noah, Caleb and Luke, we’re glad you are worshipping with us today.

This morning we are continuing our way through the book of Philippians. The title of our series is Joyfully following Jesus Together ‘til the End. I pray that this book blesses you as it has me. It’s a joy and an honor to study, think, pray, write and preach every week.

Last week we looked at this idea that we are partners in the gospel. And the source of this partnership is that we first have partnership with Jesus in salvation. Because that partnership will not fail, the gospel partnership will not fail either. And the purpose of the partnership is to make disciples of all nations.

One component of making disciples is to see the gospel advance. That’s what Paul begins to describe in this section of his letter from verses 12-26. We’ll look at the first part today and the rest next week. Today we’ll look at verses 12-18 that highlight the current circumstances in which he wrote the letter. Next week we’ll look further at his future hopes for advancing the gospel.

Would you join me in prayer? Let’s ask God to illuminate this text for us. That we would have a greater appreciation for what Paul is saying. And for the Holy Spirit to apply this to our hearts.

Almighty God you are holy. You are Author and Creator of this universe. You are full or power and yet intimately involved with your creation. Thank you for sending Christ into this fallen world. Thank you preserving your people with the Holy Spirit. We have fellowship with you this morning because of Christ.

For all who believe in the gospel this morning, we have a common union with Christ. We share in the same partnership as the Philippians enjoyed with Paul. Let us not move past this too quickly. Now I ask that you would give us ears to hear and minds to think hard about your word. Keep us from distraction, help us fight against familiarity. Speak to us and strengthen our faith. We love you and we want to know Christ more, so that others might know Christ too.

Last week Paul opened his letter with a prayer and a promise for the Philippians. Now he continues with an update on his circumstances. It’s similar to a missionary update we might receive now. As he gives an update to his friends at Philippi, Paul also uses the opportunity to teach them a key point about this gospel partnership. The gospel advances through circumstances. Put another way, God uses our situations to advance the gospel.

In our passage there are four main sections all with the same result: the gospel advancing. Verses 12-13 show the gospel advancing through hard situations. Verse 14 sees gospel advance despite fear. Then in v 15-17 we see gospel advance through different motives. And in verse 18 we see the bottom line: That no matter what the gospel will advance and in that we can rejoice. Let’s look at the first point: The gospel advances through hard situations:

(v12-13)Through hard situations
I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ.

We’ve already looked a little at Paul’s life as an apostle. He writes to the Philippians from jail, most likely in Rome. In jail he is facing persecution for the gospel, and yet he recognizes the work of God’s providence.

On the surface, especially for us who are used to great amounts of comfort, this sounds like something Paul should try to get out of. For a missionary called to travel the ancient world proclaiming the gospel, and planting and building churches, this might seem like a pretty big limitation. How can you plant churches if you are in jail? How can the gospel advance if you are in chains? But this is exactly what God has in mind for Paul. From before Paul’s ministry began, Jesus had suffering in mind for Paul. And the purpose was for the gospel to advance. Acts 9:15-16 he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. 16 For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”

God, through Jesus, has ordained that all things in the universe will happen exactly the way God wants them to work. Even difficult and confusing circumstances. Paul was arrested several times during his ministry usually because he caused a stir in a city by preaching the gospel. In our text Paul recognizes that his imprisonment is exactly what God intended for gospel advance.

As we saw last week, God is completely responsible for our salvation, but he uses means. He uses other things to bring about what he wants to happen. This is called secondary causes. God is the primary cause of all that happens but he uses means to carry out his plans. Paul wound up in prison, why? Because of God. But the secondary cause was the Jews who were offended by what Paul was preaching.

The Bible is filled with examples of God using means to accomplish his purposes. Let me give you just one in the story of Joseph…Joseph is sold into slavery by his brothers, and ultimately makes his way to Egypt. After several ups and downs, all ordained by God, Joseph becomes the second-in command behind Pharaoh. God placed Joseph in Egypt in order to move the story of redemption forward. He was in a place to provide food for the entire region, including his own family. In God’s providence, the family moved to Egypt, to survive but also to move the story of redemption forward. It might sound strange, but the Exodus doesn’t happen if God didn’t first get the people of Israel to Egypt. God’s mighty signs and wonders wouldn’t have happened. But God uses circumstances to achieve his purposes. In Genesis 50, Joseph understands this when he meets his brothers, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”

“I want you to know that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel.” It’s a very similar idea between Joseph and Paul.

For Paul, what has happened to him is exactly what God intended: prison. As a result of his imprisonment he had to defend himself before councils and tribunes. Acts gives numerous examples of Paul having to explain his actions before rulers. How did Paul defend his actions? By telling of his conversion, of his understanding of Jesus as the Messiah and belief in Christ’s life, death and resurrection. That the gospel was for all people both Jew and Gentile.

Jail also meant someone was constantly guarding him. And Paul would proclaim the gospel to the guards as well. Acts 28 shows him under house arrest in Rome and it says, “He lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, 31 proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.”

God worked through Paul’s situation. He will work through ours as well. Think about your particular situation. God has put you there; use them to advance the gospel. When Paul shared the gospel, it didn’t mean every time resulted in conversions. He preached to many people that simply passed him on to the next in command. Remember that we are simply called to share the gospel. We are simply getting the word out. That is gospel advance.

It’s probably easier for us to see the specific ways God has spared us from danger or suffering. Because you forgot your wallet and had to return home, you missed the 35W bridge collapse. We would probably see God’s hand in that situation and how he spared you. Which is absolutely true. But what if God’s hand brings about something painful? What if God’s purposes included suffering and calamity or tragedy? We don’t always get to know all of the reasons why things happen in life and we can’t interpret completely. But this passage does help us understand at least one of the reasons for our various circumstances.

Some of you face really difficult things right now. How can you use everything God has placed before you to advance the gospel? This week I got to sit with the Howards. Most of you know they have been through an extended season of difficulty. Matt is slowly recovering from a car accident and a concussion. Lots of things are left uncertain. In the last week they have faced more challenges and so we sat there praying. And through it all Matt is praying and thinking of the ways that the gospel might advance through his circumstances.

Have the right perspective. See your circumstances as from God. God has put you in your current setting for a reason: to glorify God. One of the ways you can glorify God in your current circumstances is to seek to advance the gospel. Don’t think you are exempt from this. Don’t think things are too hard to be used by God. Look at Paul. He saw his chains as the way the gospel would advance. Maybe you are not in a difficult season. Cultivate this perspective now, so that when hardship comes, you will be ready.

Maybe right now it’s looking for ways in the ordinary. What if a flat tire resulted in a chance to share the gospel? Finding yourself in the hospital suddenly opens doors with doctors, nurses and family members. Maybe having to lay people off invites ways to make Christ known. Maybe it’s a hard season of parenting that gives you windows for gospel advancement with your own kids or friends around you.

(14) through fear
In addition to seeing the gospel advance through his own circumstances, Paul also sees his circumstances encourage the brothers. Point number 2 is Gospel Advancement through fear

“And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.”

God used Paul’s imprisonment as a way to encourage the brothers. In the end the brothers were strengthened and spoke with boldness, but the text says they became confident and increased in boldness. Which means that they were previously afraid. How many of you can relate to the brothers in their fear?

Fear might be the biggest obstacle to sharing the gospel. What if someone gets angry? What if a friend doesn’t like me anymore? What if I get in trouble at my job?

What is the cause of this fear? It’s placing our security in the wrong thing. Placing our trust in people will lead to a fear of losing people’s approval. All of the fears I listed are definitely possible. Paul encountered all kinds of harm as a result of preaching the gospel. They caused him physical harm. He lost relationships as a result. The same could happen to us. We might lose a friend. We might anger a neighbor or coworker. You might get in trouble at work.

What’s the solution, then? Remind ourselves of our union with Christ. Notice the solution to fear Paul gives: the brothers became confident in the Lord.

Solution: look to Christ. He was despised. He was rejected. He became a man of sorrows. Even further, he was pierced for our transgressions. And yet willingly endured these things for the sake of God’s glory. In boldness he moved the story of redemption forward.

Remember that his suffering brought us into union with him. Remind yourself of your status related to Jesus. You are in the LORD. Then find greater confidence by seeing and hearing of others sharing the gospel. Look at Paul. If he could do it in a setting where proclaiming Christ brings beatings, you can do it too. Look at the other apostles like Peter, James and Paul. Look at other saints throughout history and in the world today.

Ask the Lord for boldness and confidence. Confess your fears of man. May God help us to say Psalm 118:6-9 with confidence:

Psalm 118:6-9 The LORD is on my side; I will not fear.
        What can man do to me?
7 The LORD is on my side as my helper;
        I shall look in triumph on those who hate me.
8 It is better to take refuge in the LORD
        than to trust in man.
9 It is better to take refuge in the LORD
        than to trust in princes.

God used Paul’s circumstances to not only provide opportunities for Paul to advance the gospel, but his example gave the brothers further confidence to proclaim the word too. And the result was gospel advancement. God uses not only our own circumstances, but others’ situations to help us advance the gospel.

In verse 15 Paul’s report further describes the brothers and brings us to point number 3: the gospel advances through different motives. Paul breaks down the brothers into two groups with two different motivations. It’s key to understand that Paul sees both of these groups as brothers in Christ, despite one group having bad intentions. In other places Paul comes down hard on people who are preaching a false gospel. In chapter 3 he calls these kind of opponents dogs and evildoers. He did not consider false teachers as brothers, so the group in our passage is treated differently. But there is still a problem and it’s their motives.

(15-17) Through different motives
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.

We have two groups that Paul compares. One preaches the gospel motivated by division and selfish motives, the other from love and unity. Notice the way he organizes these three verses: He has the group preaching from false motives at the beginning of verse 15 and the end of verse 17. And stuck in the middle is his description of the brothers whose motives are right. This is a device Paul uses in other places and the purpose is to highlight whatever is in the middle.

We’ll begin with the group preaching from false motives. On the surface this seems strange. Why would anyone preach from envy? What does that actually look like? It doesn’t seem to be a false gospel. Paul would correct that as he does in other letters like Galatians.

a) It could be a group who doesn’t believe the gospel, but somehow proclaims the truth about Christ.

For example the Jews who were enraged about Paul’s teaching might say with disgust and indignance what Paul was saying. And as a result the truth of the gospel was proclaimed and people heard it. Soemthing to the effect of “that Paul is preaching that Christ was the Messiah, risen from the dead. And in him is salvation. Can you believe that?! This might also explain why they thought they were inflicting pain on Paul. If they were reinforcing Paul’s understanding of the gospel, they thought that this would bring further persecution to Paul. The problem with this understanding is that Paul has just described them as brothers. Paul wouldn’t consider a false teacher or unbelieve as a brother.

A second option is that this group were true believers, preaching a true gospel but proclaiming the gospel with wrong motives. I think this is the right understanding of this text. So then the question is, why? Why are they preaching this way? Why would they want to inflict Paul?

b) They could see themselves in competition with Paul. With him imprisoned, now they can draw larger crowds.

If they see evangelism as a competition, they might believe that Paul would be anguished because he wouldn’t be able to share the gospel himself.

There is also the possibility of this group who favors a different apostle or teacher. In first Corinthians Paul addresses divisions in the church where people were favoring different people like Paul, Apollos or Peter. If you were a peter fan, then you might have envied Paul.

This is certainly true in our culture now. We see churches preaching the gospel with wrong motives. We’ve seen pastors fall in disgrace as a result of a ministry that had become motivated by the wrong reasons. We see churches fall into disunity because of envy and selfish ambition.

While we may not fully know the reasons why this group preached in this way, it’s clear by the contrasting group that these were wrong reasons. Notice also that Paul says that this group hopes to inflict Paul. But their intent is thwarted. Because Paul’s perspective is that God is using all of these circumstances to advance the gospel, this group can’t inflict Paul. Paul’s right motives deflect any chance of pain from this group.

To be clear, Paul isn’t celebrating the methods or motives. He’s not saying that the motives don’t matter as long as they get results. Other places in the letter he calls on the Philippians to defend and confirm the gospel and to do nothing from selfish ambition. Paul definitely desires for truth proclaimed in love.

This brings us to the second group: the group that is preaching Christ, for good reasons and motives. They are motivated by love to share the gospel. What is opposed to envy? Love. It does not envy or boast.

They share the gospel from goodwill. Their aim is to do Paul good through their preaching of the gospel. The thinking behind this group’s desire to share the gospel is that they know Paul is put in prison to defend the gospel. And with right motives, they are willing to be associated with Paul. In a culture not friendly to this burgeoning sect, the brothers were going all in with Paul. This was a risky move. Now they are not only showing love to Paul, they are subject to the same kind of suffering and persecution that Paul faced.

What he celebrates is that God is using these motives to see Christ proclaimed. This is the bottom line for Paul and where he finds joy in his circumstances.

(18) Bottom Line: The gospel advances
18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.

I have a friend who I went to school with. In his younger days he lived for himself and had gotten into a really hard spot in life. Then he heard the gospel at a particular church. Over time this church grew very large and the motives changed. The pastor was speaking at national conferences and the motives of the church became more and more about ambition, numbers and personal glory. The church ultimately imploded and closed its doors. There are lots of things to be concerned about with this picture, and even worth contending for. There were lots of things to cause anger or frustration. But ultimately, my friend and countless others heard the gospel and were saved. My friend now has opportunities to preach and advance the gospel.

There are plenty of things that are done in the name of Jesus that should make us cringe or stir us to a sense of anger. But here’s a simple test: Is your anger and frustration over false motives greater than your joy that the gospel is proclaimed? God uses everything to move the story forward. Also remember that the God who controls all circumstances to advance the gospel, is also judge. He will judge false motives and selfish ambition.

While we are called to defend and confirm the gospel, protecting the truth of it, consider your own conversion. Maybe the words weren’t clear or complete. Maybe the methods used you wouldn’t endorse now. Maybe the person who shared the gospel didn’t have a life that matched what he or she spoke. Maybe it was at a church you would have significant disagreements with now.

But here you are, believing in the gospel. Because someone, whether in pretense or in truth, proclaimed Christ to you. And God used those circumstances to save you.

Where can Paul get this kind of attitude? How can he rejoice in the middle of persecution and prison? It’s from the Christ he proclaims. During Jesus’ life he encountered a similar situation. The apostle John came to Jesus,

Luke 9:49-50 “Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he does not follow with us.” But Jesus said to him, “Do not stop him, for the one who is not against you is for you.”

If Jesus isn’t troubled about who gets the glory, we shouldn’t either. Paul knows this. He models the humility of Jesus that we see in chapter 2 of Philippians. The humble and obedient servant who made himself nothing in order that God would get the glory.

God is moving the story of redemption forward. The gospel is advancing. And the way that God advances the gospel is through people and circumstances. As partners in the gospel, we participate in this advance.