Friday, August 17, 2012

An Unexpected Turnaround

But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel, so that it has become evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest, that my chains are in Christ; and most of the brethren in the Lord, having become confident by my chains, are much more bold to speak the word without fear. (Philippians 1:12-14)
When all the principalities and powers conspired to put the Lord Jesus on the cross on Friday afternoon, that seemed to them a good idea at the time. But then Sunday morning rolled around, when God raised Jesus from the dead. That’s when they realized God had turned it around on them.

Something similar happened with the gospel when Paul was put in chains at Rome for preaching the good news about Jesus the Messiah and the kingdom of God. I expect the Roman authorities figured that would flatten his tires and put a crimp in his ministry and message.

But there was an unexpected turnaround, and Paul wants the Jesus believers at Philippi to know about it. They were partners with him in the gospel and the grace of God ever since Paul first preached it to them years earlier. They were standing with him now during his time of imprisonment, and anxious to know what was happening. What they would have expected to be an impediment to the ministry actually turned out to be an advantage that advanced the gospel, and that was good news in itself.

The word for “furtherance” literally means to “cut forward.” Perhaps that is the meaning Paul has in mind in this context, the idea being that of preparing the way for an army to move forward. The gospel is “on the march,” and Paul identifies two specific benefits and the “armies” he has in mind (one of which is literal).
  • “It has become evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest, that my chains are in Christ.”
  • “Most of the brethren in the Lord, having become confident by my chains, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.”
In his house arrest at Rome (about which, see Acts 28:16-31), Paul is always guarded by a Roman soldier, so he always has a captive audience and an opportunity to talk about the Lord Jesus. When a new guard comes on duty, there was a new opportunity. Over the two years Paul is in this situation, he has gotten to know the guards quite well, and they him. It is no real stretch to suppose that some of them, perhaps even many of them, have become believers themselves. Imagine the discussion in the barracks as they speak of Paul and the good news he brings. They are used to hearing that Caesar is Lord (that is, the divine king), but Paul is proclaiming that Jesus, not Caesar, is Lord. This announcement is electric and runs through the whole praetorian guard (Caesar’s own guards).

Also during this time Paul has many visitors, and his message to them is exactly the same has always been. He has not let up on it one bit because of his circumstances. In fact, he has leveraged his circumstances to advance the gospel in a new stage of his ministry — he is not going to the people, they are coming to him.
So when they had appointed him a day, many came to him at his lodging, to whom he explained and solemnly testified of the kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus from both the Law of Moses and the Prophets, from morning till evening. And some were persuaded by the things which were spoken, and some disbelieved …

Then Paul dwelt two whole years in his own rented house, and received all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ with all confidence, no one forbidding him. (Acts 24:23-24, 30-31)
Here is Paul, then, under arrest but as bold as ever. Though he is in chains, his message cannot be bound. Some of his visitors believe and come away with the good news about Jesus the Messiah and the kingdom of God. Others have probably visited Paul to encourage him, but they come away encouraged themselves. Seeing the confidence of Paul, even in his chains, makes them much bolder to go and spread the good news around themselves. For Paul, it is win/win, and reason to rejoice.

Focus Questions
  1. Do you think Paul was surprised by this turnaround?
  2. Do you think Paul was being unrealistically optimistic about this?
  3. When you hear of Christians around the world who are being persecuted for their faith, yet they rejoice, does that encourage you to be bolder in your witness about King Jesus?



There is Always Joy!
There is Always Joy!
Paul’s Letters to the Jesus Believers at Philippi
Bite-Sized Studies Through the Book of Philippians
by Jeff Doles

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