COMMENTARY ON PHILIPPIANS
T E X T
“But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel, so that it has become evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest, that my chains are in Christ”(Phil 1:12-13, NKJV)
The life of the Apostle centered in Christ and His great salvation. He viewed life’s circumstances as directly related to those priorities. For him to live was Christ. That, of course, is the Kingdom standard. Such a perspective is to be viewed as ordinary in heavenly places. In fact, it is the only acceptable posture of life. When we walk in the light, we will respond to life’s trials in the same manner as Paul, according to our measure of faith.
THE THINGS WHICH HAPPENED TO ME
“But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me . . . ” (KJV). Here is the godly viewpoint of the most difficult of human experience: “the things which happened to me.” In these words we find a minimization of the circumstances themselves, i.e., “the things.” In another place Paul itemized some of these “things,” showing they were by no means ordinary human experiences. “Stripes . . . prisons . . . deaths . . . five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice . . . beaten with rods, once . . . stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness” (2 Cor 11:23-27). Experiences are of less magnitude have crushed many a soul. Faith, however, makes us superior to situations.
Paul wanted the Philippians to know about “the things which happened”to him. He was not looking for sympathy, nor was he promoting a personal agenda. Later he says, “Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content” (Phil 4:11). Those who draw attention to their circumstances apart from their association with the Gospel of Christ may not be seeking our welfare.
The Apostle is emphasizing identity with the cross of Christ, which is a source of offence to those who walk after the flesh. The things which“happened” to him were the direct result of his labors in the Gospel. They revealed the “offence of the cross” upon those who are “enemies” to it (Gal 5:11; Phil 3:18). He was being persecuted for righteousness sake, and desired that the Philippians know the outcome of the opposition he was experiencing.
It is needful to note the necessity of seeing life from the proper perspective. When trials and hostility are viewed incorrectly, they bring a great weight upon the soul which is difficult, if not impossible, to bear. Too, when we see our brethren suffering at the hand of their oppressors, we might be tempted to think their labors are in vain. Countless souls have ceased to exert themselves for Christ because they have been opposed. Others have chosen to avoid such labors because of the contention experienced by others. What soul has not heard of men that decided not to enter the ministry because they heard of the oppositions others were called to bear? That is why spiritual light must be shown upon sufferings for Christ’s sake.
The Apostle is endeavoring to keep the Philippians from being discouraged, and even deterred, by the adversity he was experiencing. Such sensitive souls are not common in our day, and are, consequently, exceeding precious. Too, when there is such love for the brethren that we are deeply concerned for their welfare, we are enjoying true fellowship. We are admonished, “Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep” (Rom 12:15).
But Paul will not let them weep long. He will have them know the Kingdom is marching forward, and the cause of Christ is flourishing. “How is the Lord’s work doing?” That is the real issue with Paul! He knows that is also how the Philippians feel, and thus assures their hearts.
THE FURTHERANCE OF THE GOSPEL
“ . . .have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel . . . ”(KJV). Those who give their lives to the propagation of the Gospel will not be disappointed! This is owing to Divine undergirding! God is supporting the work! Here is abundant confirmation that “all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Rom 8:28). One might wonder how this can be the case with Paul. Ultimately, of course, all of this worked together for his personal good. But it also did so for the moment. The Apostle’s heart was in his work. He was not a sectarian, nor was he promoting a private agenda. Christ called him into the work of reconciliation, and he had entered into it (2 Cor 5:19-20).
Like Paul, those whose hearts are with the Lord are never more pleased than when His Gospel flourishes. For them, it is a glad day when the Word runs, has free course, and is not hindered (2 Thess 3:1). Even though Paul suffered himself, he considered the “furtherance of the Gospel” of greater consequence than his personal hardship. He was not living for himself! He was crucified to the world, and the world to him (Gal 6:14). He had died with Christ, and had been raised to sit with Him in the heavenly places. The things he experienced in the body and in the world, therefore, were not of primary importance. He had, in fact, adopted the heavenly agenda.
This also is the standard of the Kingdom. Jesus makes no provision for us to “live after the flesh,” with this world and our persons in the prominent position (Rom 8:13).
And what is “the furtherance of the Gospel?” This speaks of the enlargement of the borders within which the Gospel is heard. Its sound reaches further! Its reception becomes more extensive. It is when the Gospel is preached “in the regions beyond” (2 Cor 10:16). It is when the Gospel is preached “with the Holy Spirit sent down from heaven” (1 Pet 1:12). The Gospel was furthered, for example, during the early persecution of believers when “those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the Word”(Acts 8:4). The more the world opposed them, the more the Word grew.
Oh, that more of this were being experienced in our own country! A gross darkness has descended upon the professed church that has brought a state of near-total ignorance of the Gospel of Christ! There are agendas being promoted by the nominal church that have little to do with the Gospel! Just as the furtherance of the Gospel brought great joy to the Apostle, the suppression of that Gospel causes great sorrow.
How can the devil succeed in his diabolical intentions? In this text, the old serpent, working under Divine auspices, has Paul incarcerated. But it does not stop the spread of the Gospel, which announces Satan’s overthrow (Col 2:15; Heb 2:14; 1 John 3:8). In fact, “the things” that “happened” to the Apostle resulted in the furtherance of the Gospel rather than its suppression. It is true,“we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us” (Rom 8:37). Satan cannot win, and Jesus cannot lose! The only question is whether or not we are incorporated in the work. If so, what happens to us will “fall out” to the furtherance the Gospel.
IT HAS BECOME EVIDENT
“ . . .so that it has become evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest, that my chains are in Christ” (KJV). Among other things, the power of living by faith is found in its evidence. It is true, “A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid” (Matt 5:14). The burden of Apostolic labors was not found in exhorting believers to shine, but in getting some light into them so they would shine. The Philippians themselves were told they were shining “as lights in the world” (Phil 2:15).
Spiritual light is so prevailing that it shines “out of obscurity, and out of darkness” (Isa 29:18; 58:10). Take Paul’s imprisonment as an example. He speaks of “the whole palace guard” (NKJV). The word “palace” may also be translated “praetorian guard” (NASB). This was a special guard, stationed in Rome. It is understood this was the very hall and palace of Nero. Rather, however, than viewing himself as a prisoner of the State, Paul referred to himself as “an ambassador in chains” (Eph 6:20, NKJV).
Imprisonment did not shut the mouth of the Apostle. He did not spend his time sulking, or wondering why he was locked up. He carried out his commission from the place of confinement! It became “evident” to “the whole palace guard” that Paul was in prison for the sake of Christ. He was not suffering as an evil doer, and that became clear to all who confronted him. Believers are solemnly admonished, “But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men's matters” (1 Pet 4:15). Although, according to appearance, Paul was suffering“trouble, as an evil doer” (2 Tim 2:9), it became evident to those guarding him this was not at all the case. His character was not contaminated.
Not only was his demeanor commendable, the guards doubtless heard the Gospel from the captive over whom they kept watch. Later, Paul will send greetings to the brethren at Philippi from the saints “that are of Caesar's household” (Phil 4:22). Under the most difficult circumstances, the child of God can still bear fruit to God! Therein the Father is especially glorified (John 15:8). Just as the grape yields its precious juice under the pressure of the feet treading the grapes, so the child of God sends out the sweet fragrance of the Gospel under the heel of the oppressor.
Jesus affirmed that the water of life would cause that water to be the one drinking it, “a well of water springing up into everlasting life” (John 4:14). In another place our Lord said of the believer, “out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water” (John 7:38). This is precisely what occurred with Paul. The river of life flowed out from him under oppressive circumstances. Like Jeremiah, the Word broke forth from within him, for he could not contain it (Jer 20:9). Everyone who came in contact with this man of God knew what constrained him. They did not associate his imprisonment with him being a Jew. Nor, indeed, did they consider him a perpetrator of a self-promoting agenda. It became “evident” that the Gospel is what drove him. It was what he declared that provoked the response of men, whether for good or evil. But this was not only true in the palace. It was also true “in all other places.” The conclusion was always the same. Paul was suffering for Christ’s sake.