Summary: A message about having joy in the Christian life.
INTRO: More than anything else, Paul’s desire as a missionary was to preach the Gospel in Rome. Rome was the key city of Paul’s day. If he could conquer it for Christ, it would mean reaching millions with the message of salvation. Paul wanted to go to Rome as a preacher, but instead he went as a prisoner!
To many, this would have looked like failure, but not to this man with a “single mind,” concerned with sharing Christ and the Gospel. Paul did not find his joy in ideal circumstances; he found his joy in winning others to Christ. And if his circumstances promoted the furtherance of the Gospel, that was all that mattered! The word furtherance means “pioneer advance.” It is a military term referring to the army engineers who go before the troops to open the way into a new territory. Instead of finding himself confined as a prisoner, Paul discovered that his circumstances really opened up new areas of ministry.
God still wants His children to take the Gospel into new areas. He wants us to be pioneers, and sometimes He arranges circumstances so that we can be nothing else but pioneers. In fact, that is how the Gospel originally came to Philippi! Paul had tried to enter another place, but God had repeatedly shut the door.
God sometimes uses strange tools to help us pioneer the Gospel. In Paul’s case, there were three tools that helped him take the Gospel to the elite Praetorian Guard, Caesar’s special troops.
I. PAUL’S CHAINS (vv. 12-14).
Little did the Romans realize that the chains they affixed to Paul’s wrists would release him instead of bind him! He did not complain about his chains; instead he consecrated them to God and asked God to use them for the pioneer advance of the Gospel. And God answered his prayers.
To begin with, these chains gave Paul contact with the lost. He was chained to a Roman soldier 24 hours a day! The shifts changed ever six hours, which meant Paul could witness to at least four men each day! Imagine yourself as one of those soldiers, chained to a man who prayed “without ceasing,” who was constantly interviewing people about their spiritual condition, and who was repeatedly writing letters to Christians and churches. It was not long before some of the soldiers were saved.
But the chains gave Paul contact with another group of people: the officials in Caesar’s court. He was in Rome as an official prisoner, and his case was an important one. The Roman government was going to determine the official status of this new “Christian” sect. Was it merely another sect of the Jews? Or was it something new and possibly dangerous? Imagine how pleased Paul must have been knowing that the court officials were forced to study the doctrines of the Christian faith!
Sometimes God has to put “chains” on his people to get them to accomplish a “pioneer advance” that could never happen any other way. The secret is this: when you have the single mind caused by “chains,” you look upon your circumstances as God-given opportunities for the furtherance of the Gospel and you rejoice at what God is going to do instead of complaining about what God did not do.
Paul’s chains not only gave contact with the lost, but they also gave courage to the saved. Many of the believers in Rome took fresh courage when they saw Paul’s faith and determination (v. 14).
II. PAUL’S CRITICS (vv. 15-19).
It is hard to believe that anyone would oppose Paul, but there were believers in Rome doing just that. The churches there were divided. Some preached Christ sincerely, wanting to see people saved. Some preached Christ insincerely, wanting to make the situation more difficult for Paul. The latter group was using the Gospel to further their own selfish purposes.
Paul uses an interesting word in verse 16—contention. It means “to canvass for office, to get people to support you.” Paul’s aim was to glorify Christ and get people to follow him; his critics aim was to promote themselves and win a following of their own. Instead of asking, “Have you trusted Christ?” they asked, “Whose side are you on— ours or Paul’s?” Unfortunately, this kind of “religious politics” is still seen today.
When you have the single mind, you look upon your critics as another opportunity for the furtherance of the Gospel. Paul was able to rejoice, not in the selfishness of his critics, but in the fact that Christ was being preached! There was no envy in Paul’s heart.
Criticism is usually very hard to take, particularly when we are in difficult circumstances, as Paul was. How was he able to rejoice even in the face of such diverse criticism? He possessed the single mind! Verse 19 indicated that Paul expected his case to turn out victoriously (“for my deliverance”) because of the prayers of his friends and the help (supply, KJV) of the Holy Spirit. The word supply refers to the generous resources of God.