Here is a short summary of what we covered at this week’s Bible study on Philippians 1:12-20. Reading through this recap doesn’t come close to the rich discussion we have in our groups, but hopefully it spurs you on to keep digging.
What good things happened as a result of Paul’s imprisonment?
- Paul was able to share the gospel with the members of the Praetorian Guard, the elite regiment of soldiers assigned to Caesar’s palace. As a prisoner, Paul was chained to a guard around the clock, getting a new man every six hours. For two years. The guard had nowhere to go and so Paul saw it as an opportunity to witness to people he otherwise would have had no access to. The word spread into Caesar’s very own household (Phil. 4:22). How else would that have happened?
A bit of background here is helpful. Paul had a strong desire to go to Rome and visit the church there. He did not start that church and had never been to the great city until he arrived as a prisoner. The church in Rome was firmly established and there were already people there sharing the gospel. But Paul longed to preach in Rome.
“After all this happened, Paul decided to go to Jerusalem, passing through Macedonia and Achia. ‘After I have been there,’ he said, ‘I must visit Rome also.'” (Acts 19:21)
“I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are at Rome.” (Romans 1:15)
“I have been longing for many years to visit you.” (Romans 15:23)
Then one night, while Paul was in jail, the Lord came to him and said, “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.” (Acts 23:11)
Paul’s dream of going to Rome was going to happen! But he was probably expecting to go as a preacher, not as a prisoner. This could have been a great disappointment to him. Do you know how hard it is for a preacher not to preach? Yet God gave Paul an audience — one soldier at a time, and that advanced the gospel more than he could have imagined.
Sometimes, our disappointments turn out to be God’s appointments.
- Another good result of Paul’s imprisonment — it empowered others to speak out with courage. (v. 14)
- Paul wrote Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon while sitting in that Roman prison. Paul probably wouldn’t have stopped to write those letters unless he was forced to sit still somewhere.
What not-so-good things happened as a result of Paul’s imprisonment?
Some local preachers may have been threatened by Paul’s popularity or jealous of his effective ministry. It seems they had some bad motives and were out to tarnish Paul’s good name. Even so, they were preaching the gospel and not some heresy, so Paul said, “As long as they are preaching Christ, I don’t care what they say about me.” He was unoffendable. This is a man who didn’t let his ego get in the way. Paul knew he was in prison for the defense of the gospel, not to defend himself. That takes maturity.
Paul didn’t condemn those preachers who were stirring up trouble because he didn’t want to give life to that distraction. Of supreme importance to Paul was that Christ was being preached. Period.
Why was courage needed by the believers at this time?
They were in the capital of the Roman Empire, where Caesar declared himself to be a god and demanded worship. A group of people showed up who called Caesar’s deity into question and introduced the God of Heaven and Earth. That was risky business. It took great courage to speak about their beliefs in that pagan culture. For many, it took even greater courage to die for their faith.
What about us? Francis Chan asked, “Why are we cowards when it comes to speaking the gospel? Jesus is a name we claim to love. Why wouldn’t we want to speak about the Person we love the most?”
Paul asked his friends in Philippi to pray for him to be courageous in the face of uncertainty. He never considered himself too big or important to need and depend on the prayers of other people. Maybe he would be released or maybe he would be sentenced to death. Either way, he determined ahead of time to magnify God, to make Him great.
The last half of our study was spent on looking deeply into verses 18-20. What a joy to hear the many ways God’s Word was speaking to the women in our groups!
What should give us joy? The message of Christ getting out, no matter the method used.
What does a mature person look like? A mature person leaves his ego at the door.
How can we shine like stars? By taking a disappointment and watching to see how it might lead to a divine appointment.