Rev. VanBaren is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Hudsonville, Michigan.

In Philippians 1:12-26 the apostle Paul writes concerning his own situation. Most letter writers, understandably, will first tell about their own circumstances. Paul’s concern, of course, is not to gain sympathy from the readers nor even merely to inform them concerning himself. Paul understood that the church of Philippi was worried about him—but even more so, they were concerned about the church of Christ which seemed to need Paul and his labors in their midst. Paul had been imprisoned now for almost four years: two years in Caesarea and two years in Rome. A verdict was forthcoming. Would Paul be released so that he could resume his ministry—or would he be executed?

He assures the Philippians first of all that God controls all the things which take place—and not only does He control, but He does so that His purpose might be served. The things which happened to Paul, served to the “furtherance of the gospel.”

Paul’s imprisonment and boldness in speaking the gospel in that situation, served to the furtherance of the gospel. This was true, first of all, in that Paul’s “bonds in Christ” were manifest to “all the palace.” The “palace” could better be translated, “the praetorium,” that is, the guard who kept watch over Paul. These understood that Paul’s bonds were not for some criminal act, but “in Christ.” This had its effect upon the guard. Some of them believed and gave expression to their faith.

There were also other brethren in Rome who were emboldened because of Paul’s situation. These had evidently been fearful—concerned about the possibility of their own imprisonment. But when they observed Paul’s confidence, and considered also the fact that he would possibly soon be freed, this served to encourage them in speaking out confidently too.

However, Paul recognized that not all the Christians in Rome sympathized with him. There were some preachers who proclaimed Christ—but in envy (against Paul) and strife. These were evidently jealous of Paul’s popularity and recognition in the city. Though Paul was bound, there were many who admired him and sought to encourage and help him. But these jealous ones thought that Paul received too much praise. They too worked hard in the preaching of the gospel. They deserved surely as much honor as did the apostle Paul. In preaching Christ, these sought to do it in a manner that Paul would be put down. Possibly by seeking to gain the praise of men for themselves, they hoped that Paul would suffer because of that.

Yet others, more noble, preached the same gospel out of “good will.” These were not concerned with praise of men, but with preaching of the Christ. Their sole joy in this life was to set forth the cross of atonement.

Paul was not going to enter into this type of fray. He rejoiced that by both detractors as well as admirers, Christ was preached. This was true whether the preaching was in pretense or in truth.

The apostle was encouraged too through the prayers of the Philippians and the blessings of the Spirit upon him in all of his trial. Even as he himself constantly prayed God’s blessings upon the Philippians, he knew that they also had him in their own prayers. And God used all of this to work toward the final deliverance, salvation, of Paul.

Paul’s great concern was that Christ would be “magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death.” Whatever might happen to Paul, he was assured that it was to the glory of God and the honor of his Lord Jesus Christ. He could be bold, even now in bonds, knowing that this would be to the praise of his Savior.

Then follows the familiar confession of verse 21. Paul insists that to “live is Christ and to die is gain.” Whatever may happen to him, Paul is convinced that it is, for good. To remain on this earth “is Christ.” In life he could preach the gospel, comfort the saints, build up the church of Christ. He would be encouraged and led by the Spirit of the Son. Life would be the means of serving His God. But to die would be “gain.” Then he would be delivered from the sufferings of this life. No more would he be oppressed by wicked men nor imprisoned for Jesus’ sake. He could fellowship with his Lord and with the saints of God who had been made perfect. To die would truly be gain.

What would Paul personally prefer? The fact that he emphasizes that death is “gain” would surely indicate that Paul saw that as far better. Death would be the “doorway” to eternal glory. But there are other factors which must be weighed. There is the need to continue on this earth in order to provide for ministry to the church. Paul could understand very well that the churches, established only a few years before, still needed the strong hand of guidance he could provide. To abide in the flesh was more needful for them.

So Paul was in a “strait betwixt two.” One can understand the difficulty. His interest in the church and his desire to help that church to the best of his ability would be reason to remain. And Paul is convinced that this is what will happen too. God will do that which is the very best for His church. There is need that the apostle help them to grow in their faith and the joy of that faith.

That is also what took place. Shortly after the epistle was written, Paul was freed and continued his labors for a number of years. God had work for Paul to do—and after that was finished, Paul could be with His Lord in heaven to enjoy that which is far better.

Questions:

1. Explain how the things which happened to Paul were indeed to the “furtherance of the gospel.”

2. Do all those things which happen to children of God also work for the furtherance of the gospel? If so, how? If not, why not?

3. Do trials and other adversities work more towards the furtherance of the gospel than do more pleasant events?

4. If trials work to the “furtherance of the gospel,” ought we not to desire these things?

5. What is the idea of “bonds in Christ“? vs. 13.

6. In what ways did Paul’s bonds encourage others to become bolder?

7. What can you say of the two kinds of preaching mentioned in verses 15 and 16? How must we account for this? Can this still occur today?

8. How could these sinful preachers “add affliction” to Paul’s bonds?

9. How could Paul rejoice when Christ is preached “in pretence”? Does not this position allow for false teachers in the church?

10. What does Paul mean in verse 20 when he states, “Christ shall be magnified in my body”? Can we say this concerning ourselves too?

11. Paul mentions the prayers of the Philippians in verse 19. Did Paul also pray for the Philippians? Ought we to pray for one another? Is there special need to pray for preachers of the gospel?

12. How can we say of ourselves: To live is Christ, to die is gain?

13. Did Paul have greater reason to desire the heavenly than we do?

14. If death is such great gain, why do we not seek it? Do we not rather cling to this life with all possible means? Is this not wrong?

15. In verse 22 Paul mentions his “flesh.” What does he mean by that? In what different senses is this word used in Scripture (see a concordance).

16. Discuss the “strait” in which Paul found himself.

17. Could we also insist that it is more needful for ourselves to remain? How do we know when that “need” ceases?

18. On what basis does Paul conclude that he must remain? What would be the fruit of that for the Philippians?

19. What is the cause for the rejoicing of the Philippians when Paul comes to them?