Thursday, February 17, 2011
In this section we see how Paul is answering some of the concerns that the Philippians for him because of his imprisonment and the spread of the gospel. The first thing Paul is going to do is teach them and us something about the providence of God. In the coming weeks, we’ll look at what Paul teaches us something about our concern for the promotion of the gospel, and our purpose in life. This week, we’ll look at the first: the providence of God.
I. God uses Paul’s imprisonment for His glory.
First of all, in verses 12-14, Paul is responding to the Philippians’ expressions of concern for him. ‘Paul, you’re in prison. If ever there was a time when you were needed, it’s now. What in the world is God doing? Won’t the gospel be hindered if you are imprisoned?
In response to the Philippians’ concern that the gospel is somehow going to be hindered by Paul being in prison, Paul says ‘My circumstances may look bad to you, but they have served the greater progress of the gospel.’ This is quite extraordinary. Paul actually goes on to give two examples of how his imprisonment has served the expansion of the gospel message in this region, and even all the way to Rome.
Rome is the economic, governmental, social, cultural center of the world. And Paul says, ‘Let me give you one example of how my imprisonment has served the expansion of the gospel message. For one thing,’ he says, ‘the whole Praetorian Guard has heard the gospel.’
Paul may be chained up, but he’s chained up to guards, and they’re hearing the gospel whether they want to hear it or not! And the Praetorian Guard happens to be the guard that guards Nero’s house! So the gospel has spread all the way to the guards who guard Nero’s house. In fact, Paul, in one of his letters, will greet those who are Christians in Nero’s house. Maybe it was through this very path: the guards are witnessed to; they embrace Christ; they tell others who then embrace Christ. But Paul is saying, ‘Look, even though I’m in prison, I’m sharing the gospel and the Praetorian Guard is hearing the gospel! The gospel is going forth. I’m chained up, but the gospel is not.’
And he says, ‘Let me give you another example.’ He says in verse 14, ‘There are brethren who are trusting in the Lord in ways that they have never trusted in the Lord before, just because I am in prison. They turn around, suddenly I’ve been sidelined, I’m in prison, and they say, ‘Well, we’re going to have to trust the Lord more than ever before, and if Paul’s voice has been muffled for a while, if he’s been sidelined, if he can’t be out in the streets and marketplace sharing the gospel, then I guess we need to be out in the streets and in the marketplaces sharing the gospel.’’ And so he says, “…They have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear.” It’s as if in their very moment of crisis they say ‘Hey, we have to step up and trust the Lord, and we have to get out there and share the gospel.’ And so Paul gives two examples to the Philippians about how even though he’s chained up, even though he’s in prison, even though he’s awaiting sentencing, even though he is possibly awaiting death, nevertheless the gospel is not hindered. In fact, his imprisonment has served the purposes of the greater expansion, or the greater progress, of the gospel.
What makes Paul respond to his imprisonment in this way? How is it that Paul can look at his circumstances and not say, ‘Lord, what are You doing? Lord, I am the one apostle concerned to primarily spread the word of Christ to the Gentiles, and here You are locking me up in prison! Lord, I’m trying to serve You faithfully, and here I am clamped to a Roman soldier.’ Why isn’t Paul asking “Why me?” kinds of questions? For two reasons.
First, because the Apostle Paul believes Romans 8:28, he wrote it, after all! “God causes all things to work together for good for those who are called according to His purpose,” for those who love Him. Paul believes Romans 8:28. He believes in God’s providence over, His care for, His sovereign oversight of His people in such a way that He works everything in our lives for our good. Paul believes that, and so Paul doesn’t look at his circumstances and say, ‘Lord, my circumstances show that You don’t love me, You’re not in control. What’s going on here? Why me? What are You doing, Lord? Where are You?’ No, rather, Paul looks at his circumstances and he is confident that God is at work even in those circumstances.
The second reason is that God will build His Church. We will look at that next week, but for now, Paul is at peace because he knows that God is at work in all circumstances.
Posted by Ligon Duncan at 2:01 PM