Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel.
– PHILIPPIANS 1:12
In Philippians 1:12, Paul’s letter to the Philippian church turns to a discussion of Paul’s present circumstances. In this section, Paul confirms what he had already alluded to in verse 7, that he is in “chains.” In other words, Paul is imprisoned as he had been many times for preaching the gospel (2 Corinthians 11:23). There has been a good deal of debate about where Paul was imprisoned and what the specific conditions of his imprisonment were. It could be that Paul was held in a dark, overcrowded, and unsanitary room which was common at the time. It is also possible that Paul was held under house arrest (Acts 28:16). Whatever his specific circumstance was, this would appear to be a ministry-halting situation.
Paul, however, saw things differently. He writes in verse 12, “Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel.” From Paul’s perspective, his imprisonment didn’t slow the spread of the gospel, it actually advanced it. There are two reasons for this.
First, Paul’s imprisonment gave him an opportunity to share the gospel with people he might never have otherwise met. In verse 13, he specifically identifies the palace guard as one of those groups. The palace guard, also known as the Praetorian Guard, was an elite force of Roman soldiers with significant political influence. These soldiers would sometimes stand guard over prisoners like Paul, but they also had the honor of guarding political leaders including the Roman emperor himself. Because of his circumstances, Paul was able to share the gospel with the Praetorian Guard and as a result, the gospel began making its way into the inner parts of the largest, strongest, and most interconnected empire in the world.
Second, Paul’s imprisonment advanced the spread of the gospel because it inspired others to boldly carry on his mission. He writes in verse 14, “And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.” At this time, preaching about Jesus had dangerous consequences as demonstrated by Paul’s own imprisonment. It would have been understandable for Christians to be afraid of sharing their faith. Paul’s willingness to embrace these consequences for preaching the gospel actually inspired others to show the same kind of courage.
Paul’s message and model should inspire us too. It can be easy for us to shy away from sharing our faith because of fear or concern that our circumstances aren’t quite right. We don’t feel adequately trained or we don’t view our everyday settings as the mission field that God has called us to. What God wants us to discover is that He can use us no matter our circumstances. In fact, He may have placed us right where we are because He sees the opportunity in our circumstances. The choice we face is whether we will embrace our opportunities or choose to give in to fear.
PAUL’S CHAINS ADVANCE THE GOSPEL
12 Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. 13 As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. 14 And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.
15 It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. 16 The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. 18 But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.