COMMENTARY ON PHILIPPIANS
T E X T
“ . . . and most of the brethren in the Lord, having become confident by my chains, are much more bold to speak the word without fear . . . ” (Phil 1:14, NKJV)
The beloved Apostle continues to assess his life in light of the ministry of reconciliation. He does not live for himself, but for the Lord – which is standard in the Kingdom of God. A consideration of the work of the Lord tends to mitigate the impact of difficult circumstances. That is because in our thoughtfulness of Christ’s work, we experience His tenderness toward us. One of the great secrets of spiritual stability is a keen interest in “the work of the Lord” (1 Cor 15:58). The enterprise of salvation is large enough to productively dominate our thinking. Our personal involvement in what the Lord is doing brings His influence to bear upon our circumstances. That Divine association is experienced only to the degree we are preoccupied with the revealed objectives of our Lord.
MOST OF THE BRETHREN
“ . . . and most of the brethren . . . ” (NKJV). Again, we are exposed to the Apostle’s pattern of thought. Although personally afflicted, his mind has not been moved from the things of God. He is not caught up the vilification of his accusers, or the supposed injustice of those who have incarcerated him. Instead, he looks to the family of God.
The phrase “most of the brethren,” is a refreshing one. He does not saymost of MY brethren – although they were surely that. He does not view this sacred assemblage as engaged in his personal agenda, or having embraced his position or that of some church father. Such associations are altogether too common in our time. Many a churched soul thinks of “brethren” only in association with their particular theological persuasion or denomination. Some are not even capable of thinking that broadly, but consider “brethren”to be only those with whom they have immediate fellowship. Thus were born such expressions as “our church,” “our movement” “our people,” “the true church,” etc., etc. But this is not Paul’s manner of speaking. Nor, indeed, is it acceptable for anyone to speak in such a manner.
This brotherhood is not in interpersonal associations. It is not our relationship to one another that makes us “brethren,” but our affiliation with the Lord of glory. Jesus stated it this way, “For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is My brother, and sister, and mother” (Matt 12:50). Affirming that a superior class does not exist among His disciples, Jesus said “One is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren” (Matt 23:8). The word “brethren,” therefore, denotes all that are in Christ Jesus, and not a mere segment of them. They are truly “brethren in the Lord,” Who has drawn them together in “one body.”
Elaborating on this theme, Scripture affirms Jesus is “the firstborn among many brethren” (Rom 8:29). The Spirit also affirms that, because God is our Father by regeneration, Jesus is “not ashamed to call [us]brethren” (Heb 2:11). The Holy Spirit assists us to possess “unfeigned love of the brethren” (1 Pet 1:22).
Now, Paul tells us that “most of the brethren” have had a God-honoring reaction to his imprisonment. This does not seem to coincide with other expressions of Paul: i.e., “no man stood with me, but all men forsook me”(2 Tim 4:16). In both instances, Paul is describing specific circumstances, not the general demeanor of saints at all times. At his “first defense,” everyone forsook him. But God did not allow this to be a constant condition. In this case, He brings sweet relief to the blessed Apostle in this imprisonment.
When men forsake us, we must allow ourselves to think no other condition will ever take place. God can not only cause our enemies to be at peace with us (Prov 16:7), He can send comforters (2 Cor 7:6) and “helpers”to buoy up the suffering soul (Rom 16:3). The Lord will not allow His work to languish for lack of comforters and hearty workers. As we devote ourselves to the “ministry of reconciliation,” He will see to it that we are not overcome. He is able to marshal “most of the brethren” at any given occasion. I find this a most reassuring consideration.
HAVING BECOME CONFIDENT
“ . . .in the Lord having become confident by my chains . . . ” (KJV). The phrase “in the Lord” can apply to both “brethren” and becoming“confident.” The point of this verse is that “in the Lord” the brethren became“confident,” assured and poised in their spirits. One of the greatest assets in the work of Christ is “confident” laborers. Such do not appear common in our day – but that situation can change. In our text, most of the brethren BECAME confident as a result of Paul’s imprisonment and chains.
How is it that the “chains” of an afflicted brother would stimulate confidence in other brethren? Does not the oppression of Christ’s workers tend to dishearten us rather than give us confidence? Indeed, were this the only consideration we entertained, this might be true. When, however, we behold the saints keeping the faith in adversity, we take heart! When holy and oppressed saints show by demonstration that “nothing” can “separate us from the love of God,” we are emboldened to hold on our way (Rom 8:32-39)! Paul did not “pine away” in prison as Israel did by the “Rivers of Babylon” (Psa 137:1-4). Instead, he gathered strength from the King of kings, and continued his ministry with zeal and consistency. Even the prison guard and members of Caesars’s household came to the knowledge of Christ through his ministry at that time. It was Paul’s REACTION to the affliction that caused “most of the brethren” to “become confident.”
There is something valuable for us to learn here. When our brethren are oppressed, it is good and necessary that we learn of it. They need our prayers and our hearts during such times. But we must also hear of their faithfulness and continued labors. Tell us how they are keeping the faith – how they refuse to cease believing or close their mouths. The report of their faithfulness under oppression will bring a resurgence of spiritual strength and confidence to us. What soul is there who has not been encouraged by hearing or reading of“brethren” who kept the faith and continued their labors under the most difficult of circumstances?
Why is this the case? How is it that news of the faithfulness of oppressed brethren can bring confidence to those hearing of it? It is because the Lord Himself is active in the matter. He not only works in the individuals who are oppressed, but in those who identify with them. Here is an oft overlooked facet of the Kingdom. When we are admonished to “weep with them that weep” (Rom 12;15), and remember those in bonds “as bound with them”(Heb 13:3), an opportunity for Divine fellowship is being made available. As we identify with oppressed laborers in our hearts, the Lord pours His strength, peace, and encouragement into us. By so doing, He ensures the continuance of His work. He also causes great consolation to come to the oppressed as they behold the Lord’s work going forward.
Those who are touched with the adversity of Christ’s brethren will themselves be used more mightily in the Kingdom. They will be empowered to take up the work of the Lord that appears to have been hindered. Thus, Satan is overthrown mightily. In Paul’s case, where the devil managed to incarcerate one man, a host of brethren took up the work of the Lord!
SPEAKING THE WORD WITHOUT FEAR
“ . . . are much more bold to speak the word without fear.” (NKJV). The confidence gained by “most of the brethren” was put to good use. It was not merely confidence to face life with its difficulties, but confidence to “speak the Word.” If you question that such speaking takes spiritual confidence, contemplate for a moment how very little of the Word you hear spoken these days. Think of those who know what to say, but are afraid to say it. Consider the unimaginable number of former Kingdom laborers who have stopped their mouths and ceased to work for Christ because of discouragement and disillusionment. Many of them are in this very area. Contemplate the men who are restrained from speaking the Word because of a church board, or recalcitrant elders, or others who have no heart for the truth.
If the work of the Lord is to flourish, this condition must be remedied. That correction will not come by means of a mighty awakening alone. I fear many are waiting for truth to become popular and sought after before they will speak it. If, however, men will consider faithful servants who have maintained their Kingdom posture in the midst of adversity, they will become“more bold to speak the Word without fear.” This is much different than reading books written by institutionally-effective preachers. Real workers for Christ need confidence more than they need practical tips!
Think of the phrase, “more bold to speak the Word without fear.” It does require boldness to so speak the Word. By saying “more bold,” the Spirit means they ventured farther in their labors than they had before. Their ministry was not only sustained, but expanded! If Paul could be sustained in his difficulty, so could they. If He could continue declaring the Word in a king’s palace where he was held prisoner, what ought they be able to do! Here is something the church sorely needs today–“MORE boldness!” There is no reason why the tide of retrogression cannot be reversed to a condition of“more boldness!” May the Lord cause it to happen!
“Without fear” describes a condition where no debilitating thought is given to the rejection of the message. The driving force behind the proclamation is the Lord’s work, not how the message is received. If enemies are confronted, the message is declared anyway. If it causes suffering, the messenger lifts up his voice with boldness. To speak boldly in a time when the truth is being received is one thing. To declare it in the presence of jeopardy is something else.
Zachariah, father of John the Baptist, said those in Christ would “serve him without fear” (Lk 1:74). But our text seems to go even farther with the thought. The “brethren” were “MORE bold” in the proclamation of the Word, extending themselves into new territory. And why so? Because they gathered strength from the stability of Paul. Instead of Satan gaining an advantage by the captivity of Paul, his Kingdom was dealt an even more devastating blow. Thus the superiority of Christ’s reign is once again revealed. God is able to “turn the curse into a blessing” (Deut 23:5), and will surely do so for those who maintain faith in Christ. If your cause is a godly one, it will not suffer loss when you are handicapped!