Rejoicing at the Gospel Proclaimed in Philippians 1:12-18
“Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.” This is the central thought of Philippians 1:12-18. As Paul writes this epistle to the Philippians, he is imprisoned at Rome, which the letter itself implies (1:13, 4:22). The possibility of Paul’s imminent death while imprisoned (1:20) would also implicate Rome as the location of Paul’s imprisonment. The textual implications (along with an early tradition) far outweigh the modern conjectures that Paul wrote this letter elsewhere. From a Roman imprisonment, then, Paul writes to his “partners in the gospel” at Philippi who would naturally be concerned with whether the gospel was spreading in Rome despite Paul’s imprisonment. In 1:12-18, Paul reveals that his imprisonment has actually led to the great progress of the gospel because “most of the brothers … are much more bold to speak the word without fear.”
Nevertheless, Paul goes on to admit that some of these evangelists are envious of Paul and “proclaim Christ out of rivalry, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment.” Despite their impure motives, however, these evangelists proclaim a true gospel, and because their gospel is true, Paul rejoices and affirms “Yes, and I will rejoice.”
The Gospel Spreads Despite Imprisonment
In the opening verses of this passage of Philippians (vv. 12-14), we first note that the gospel spreads in Rome despite Paul’s imprisonment. In fact, that imprisonment “has really served to advance the gospel.” Consider Paul’s words in 2 Timothy 2:8-9 (when he is also imprisoned at Rome): “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound!”
The gospel is not bound with chains, though Paul is! The gospel’s spread in Rome despite Paul’s imprisonment is tangible evidence of the truth of Romans 8:28, “that for those who love God all things work together for good.” Rather than halting or even diminishing the advance of the gospel, Paul’s imprisonment actually causes the gospel to spread through Rome much like the fire that will later ravage the city! Indeed, the “whole imperial guard” and the rest of Rome know that Paul’s imprisonment is for Christ. Amazingly, even some members of the emperor’s own family have become disciples of Christ during Paul’s imprisonment (4:22).
Paul’s imprisonment led to the salvation of many in Rome because “most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment [were] much more bold to speak the word without fear.” Without these fellow believers’ boldness to spread the gospel, the gospel would not have spread. As Paul writes in Romans 10:17; “faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” The Roman Christians did not lose heart at Paul’s imprisonment. Rather, they choose to preach God’s Word and evangelize with great boldness. Under such faithfulness to the gospel, God blessed the Romans’ boldness with a great growth among the Roman believers even in the midst of Paul’s imprisonment.
The Gospel Spreads Despite Impure Motives
In verses 15-18, Paul admits that “some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will.” Some of these new evangelists were sincere and loved both God and fellow people. Some of these evangelists, however, were envious rivals of Paul. These envious evangelists do not share the gospel “out of love” as they should but rather “proclaim Christ out of rivalry, seeking to afflict me in my imprisonment. These envious evangelists, however, are not false teachers; rather, they are genuine believers who are merely misguided in their judgment of Paul. As Gordon Fee writes concerning these envious evangelists in The Letter of Paul to the Philippians:
On two matters we can be relatively certain. First, as noted above (on v. 14), they are surely members of the Christian community in the city where Paul is imprisoned. Second, and related to the first, they cannot, therefore, be related — in any direct sense, at least — to the other alleged “opponents” who surface in this letter. (p. 121)
Indeed, Paul’s resolution to rejoice in the proclamation of the gospel “whether [preached] in pretense or in truth” proves textually that these envious preachers do preach the true gospel; their sin lies in preaching the true gospel from impure motives. The envious evangelists want to become more eminent than Paul. A love for fame motivates them to preach the true gospel even as they seek to surpass Paul in eminence. Paul does not explicitly state how they go about this work of subverting him while preaching Christ, but they would most likely echo a form of Bildad’s false accusation against Job in Job 8:11-15.
Can papyrus grow where there is no marsh? Can reeds flourish where there is no water? While yet in flower and not cut down, they wither before any other plant. Such are the paths of all who forget God; the hope of the godless shall perish. His confidence is severed, and his trust is a spider’s web. He leans against his house, but it does not stand; he lays hold of it, but it does not endure.
How easily these rivals of Paul could claim that his imprisonment is a form of divine judgment! Even as these envious preachers proclaim Christ out of rivalry, though (regardless of the content of their maligning of Paul’s character), Paul rejoices that “in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed.” Paul serves in this situation as an example for us to follow. In Philippians 4:9, Paul writes: “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” This mandate to always rejoice at the gospel’s proclamation raises a very serious issue: we must be able to discern between the true gospel and false gospels.
What the Gospel Is
If we are to rejoice when the gospel is proclaimed, we must know the content of this gospel. Mark Dever helpfully breaks the gospel into 4 parts: God, mankind, Christ, and response. I have written on all of these parts of the gospel before, but I will go through the gospel again, but in this post from 1 Corinthians 15:1-8, specifically:
Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.
This is the gospel: that Jesus Christ, died for our sins, was buried, and raised on the third day “in accordance with the Scriptures.” The Bible is our only authority, our only true “evidence” that the gospel is true. But mere knowledge of these facts is not enough; true proclamation of the gospel presents a universal call to repentance and faith in Christ Jesus. True gospel preaching calls upon all people to turn to God, wholly relying upon the all-sufficiency of Christ’s substitutionary death for their salvation. “All that the Father gives me will come to me,” Jesus says in John 6:37, “and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” According to 1 Corinthians 15:1-2, true gospel preaching also affirms that true believers will persevere to the end.
What the Gospel Is Not (a partial list)
- walking the aisle
- praying a prayer
- being baptized in water
- stopping sinning to “make yourself right with God”
Rejoice at the Proclamation of the Gospel
In conclusion, have confidence in the gospel. It is the power of God for salvation (Romans 1:16). As we learn in these verses, not even imprisonment and slanderous, envious evangelists can stop the spread of the gospel. We can be confident in God’s faithfulness to fulfill the promise of Isaiah 55:11 regarding proclaiming the gospel: “it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”
Also, these verses in Philippians teach us to humbly rejoice when the gospel is proclaimed even if we personally suffer. Whatever method these envious evangelists used to seek to afflict Paul in his imprisonment, Paul was personally suffering at their hands. Likewise, we should rejoice when others proclaim the gospel even if they are our personal enemies.
Ultimately, though, if we rejoice in the gospel (and in its proclamation) enough, we will proclaim it ourselves! David quotes a proverb in 1 Samuel 24: 13 that says “out of the wicked comes wickedness.” Jesus draws from this proverb in Matthew 12:34 when He says, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” Is your heart full of love for and joy in the gospel? Or is your heart full of other things? Let us cultivate within ourselves a love for and joy in the gospel so that we won’t merely rejoice at its proclamation but that we would proclaim it ourselves, as Jesus commands us to in Matthew 28:18-20. May we affirm with Peter and John in Acts 4:20; “We cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard”!
As with my other sermons on Philippians, you can listen to my sermon on this text by clicking on the “Sermons from Philippians” tab at the top of the pages of my blog site.