Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Bible Study Series: Philippians 1:12-26

“I want you to know, brothers, that my situation has turned out rather to advance the gospel, so that my imprisonment has become well known in Christ throughout the whole praetorium and to all the rest, and so that the majority of the brothers, having taken encouragement in the Lord from my imprisonment, dare more than ever to proclaim the word fearlessly.

Of course, some preach Christ from envy and rivalry, others from good will. The latter act out of love, aware that I am here for the defense of the gospel; the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not from pure motives, thinking that they will cause me trouble in my imprisonment. What difference does it make, as long as in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is being proclaimed? And in that I rejoice.

Indeed I shall continue to rejoice, for I know that this will result in deliverance for me through your prayers and support from the Spirit of Jesus Christ. My eager expectation and hope is that I shall not be put to shame in any way, but that with all boldness, now as always, Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me life is Christ, and death is gain. If I go on living in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. And I do not know which I shall choose. I am caught between the two. I long to depart this life and be with Christ, [for] that is far better. Yet that I remain [in] the flesh is more necessary for your benefit. And this I know with confidence, that I shall remain and continue in the service of all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that your boasting in Christ Jesus may abound on account of me when I come to you again (NABRE).”

This section of Paul's letter provides us the overall context in which he writes to the Philippians. While many would see Paul's imprisonment as a hindrance to his missionary work, instead Paul sees it as a grace and a part of God's plan. He recognizes two reasons why the Gospel has actually been advanced in his current circumstance!

First off, his imprisonment has actually been made known to the Praetorium (guard) in the city where he is being held. In some way, this has actually led to some conversions to Christianity (see 4:22?). This leads to one of the questions surrounding the issue of where this letter is being written. Is he speaking about imprisonment in Rome and the emperor's Praetorian Guard or perhaps in the residence of a governor of prominent Roman province? Tough to say, as I mentioned in the introduction to this series. The ICSB prefers Rome citing 4:22, while the NOAB 4th is more vague and the NABRE notes give both options. In any case, something remarkable has occurred and a number if fairly high-ranking Roman converts have been won through his imprisonment.

Secondly, and perhaps because of these new Roman converts, Paul mentions in verse 14 that "the brothers, having taken encouragement in the Lord from my imprisonment, dare more than ever (or being much more bold in the RSV) to proclaim the word fearlessly." This is a unique characteristic of the early Christian community. Whenever there seems to be events that could cause discouragement, the community reacts with even greater vigor. I prefer the RSV's use of bold, because it helps to make a connection back to Acts 4:23-31. Here, immediately after Peter and John go before the Sanhedrin, the whole community, instead of feeling downcast, pray for greater boldness. At that moment, the Spirit comes upon them and they all experience a second Pentecost. They are all empowered to go forth with boldness in their mission work. We see this here with Paul, who, through his own example, is inspiring boldness in the brothers.

It should be noted that in verses 15-18, Paul recognizes that the Gospel is being proclaimed, by the brethren, even if for different motives. It seems that some of the brothers have personal problems with Paul, while others may be doing it for selfish ambitions. Ultimately, however, "Christ is being proclaimed" which does bring great joy to Paul.

The last section of this unit consists of verses 19-26, which prove to show Paul's state of mind at the moment of his writing. Paul is appreciative of the prayer and support that he has received from the Philippians, but most especially from the "Spirit of Jesus Christ." As the ICSB points out, this is "because the Spirit proceeds from both the Father (Jn 14:26) and the Son (Jn 15:26), he (the Holy Spirit) is called both the Spirit of the Father (Rom 8:9; 1 Cor 2:11) and the Spirit of the Son (Rom 8:9; Gal 4:6)(358)." It is the Holy Spirit that is guiding him and providing the necessary support for him to continue his work. Yet, he knows that his current difficulties will provide deliverance in some way, which seem to echoe the comments made by Job in Jb 13:16 (see ICSB and NABRE note for more). Of course, he does not necessarily mean deliverance from imprisonment, but something much more.

"Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or death. For to me life is Christ, and death is gain (20-21)." These verses, and the ones that follow, are truly a beautiful section of this letter. They reveal Paul's inner debate between his desire to be with Christ in heaven, while recognizing the importance of continuing his missionary work. As we read this section, verses 19-26, we should hear the echoes of Colossians 1:24-25: "Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church, of which I am a minister in accordance with God’s stewardship given to me to bring to completion for you the word of God (NABRE)." You see, he knows the mission that Christ has given him, and the part he plays in God's plan that is now being revealed. Yet, in his heart he would rather be with Christ in heaven. But Paul, recognizing this desire, knows that he is already living in Christ (1:21) and will continue his "fruitful labor" for his master.

The Navarre Compact NT has a nice comment on this, which I will conclude this study with: "Like Paul, the believer should try to identify himself with Christ (vv.21-26). A Christian's life in this world, involving suffering and even death, is in some way Christ's own life: that is what the Christian should be aiming at. Death is "gain" (v. 21), because it means being able to see God face to face (1 Cor 13:12) and obtain everlasting union with Christ(500)."

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