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 rivalry, 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.
Yes, and I will rejoice.
Paul’s imprisonment has served to advance the gospel. Having spent time in more than one prison by this time, I wonder how long it took for him to realize that his circumstances were really serving to advance the gospel? Probably not very long.
Just consider the events surrounding the founding of the Philippian church. Right after Lydia saw the Light down by the riverside and Paul started building the church at Philippi, he was beaten and jailed for casting out an evil spirit. I doubt anyone in Philippi soon forgot what happened after that: a great earthquake shook the foundations of the prison, set the prisoners free, and opened the doors. Some of the founding members of that church were prisoners and jailers! (Acts 16)
His imprisonment served to advance the gospel then, so why wouldn’t it now? Though the circumstances for its advancement this time around are different, the gospel advanced nonetheless.
How? First, the Paul preached Christ to the guards “and to all the rest.” Had Paul not been imprisoned, then they may not have heard about Christ when they did. Second, most of the brothers were emboldened to preach because of Paul’s imprisonment. Third, there were some who preached Christ in order to hurt Paul in some way. I do not know what this means exactly, but the point is that Paul did not care for himself near as much as he cared for the preaching of Christ.
And now I come to how this passage challenged me this week. Paul rejoices over the gospel being preached whether the people doing the preaching were doing so from pure motives or from selfish motives. Most of the time that is not my attitude. I’d rather those who are peddling the gospel for a buck just hush their mouths. It really bothers me when I see some on television proclaiming Christ (when they do) and asking for money at the same time.
Paul went out of his way (though he insists it was no trouble to him) to show those listening and watching him that he wasn’t “on the take.” In his letter to the church at Thessalonica he mentions what he went through in Philippi and he describes his ministry to them. He writes:
“For you yourselves know, brothers, that our coming to you was not in vain. But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict. For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts. For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed — God is witness. Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.
For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers. For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory” (1 Thessalonians 2:1-12).
Paul’s manner of life was dramatically different from those who preached Christ in pretense. He did what he had to do to demonstrate that he was different from those people. He walked “in a manner worthy of God” and the rest he left up to God. He trusted that God’s eyes were working just as well as his own, that God would be witness to and the tester of the hearts of those who preached Christ for greed. He didn’t spend his energy or his words on why churches shouldn’t listen to those greedy preachers. His business was preaching the gospel and planting churches.
Not that he didn’t disciple the churches in sound doctrine. Not that he didn’t warn them about false teachers and greedy under-shepherds. He did. And he encouraged pastors and elders to entrust the gospel to worthy men. However, in Thessalonica and in the letter to the Philippians, he rejoiced that the gospel was being preached and trusted God to sort out the rest.
Paul rejoiced when the gospel was preached regardless of whose mouth it came from because his passion was to see the gospel advance. I ought to do the same.
The next obvious question I have to ask myself is, Am I passionate about advancing the gospel?