The theme for the 2015 NACC was “We Speak.” President Mike Baker based the convention theme on Acts 4:20. Speaking is not the only way to advance the kingdom, but it is a primary way. John R. W. Stott said, “We speak because God has spoken” (Between Two Worlds).
In these next four lessons we will stress speaking up for Christ. We will do so from yet another of Paul’s prison epistles, Philippians. This is indeed an epistle of joy. Some form of the word joy appears 16 times in these four chapters. From Paul’s point of view, when Christ is spoken of, there is much rejoicing. Following the opening greeting (vv. 1, 2) and the typical giving of thanks and prayer (vv. 3-11), Paul brought the Philippian church up to speed on his “prison ministry.”
Good Things in Bad Places
Paul’s incarceration did what being on the outside of prison could never do. There are no accidents with God. Paul’s house arrest served to advance (drive forward) the gospel. Two advances are mentioned in verses 13 and 14. The first advance was that the palace guard and everyone else knew why Paul was in prison. It could not be clearer. Paul was in chains (bound) for Christ. While some might have assumed this, it is hard to imagine that Paul had not taken advantage of this “captive” audience and spoken up for Christ while in prison.
The second advance was that fellow believers had been emboldened in their faith as they heard about Paul’s courage in these less-than-best circumstances. The Roman Christians had become confident (totally persuaded) in the Lord. Their chests expanded in bravery. In addition to that they were daring to proclaim the gospel (word) without fear. Boldness is contagious.
Good Things from Divisive People
But Paul’s prison experience was not a panacea. Something troubled Paul in prison more than being chained to a soldier or wearing an ankle brace. It was people—people with less-than-pure motives. These were not the Judaizers that brought Paul such angst (see Galatians 5:12; Philippians 3:2). Evidently these people who spoke up for Jesus did well with the content of their message. But their motives were not sanctified. They preached the gospel but in such a way as to undercut Paul’s ministry.
They preached out of envy (jealousy or pain—this word is always used in a negative sense in the New Testament) and rivalry (strife). Not every preacher was bent in this direction (some did preach out of goodwill), but some were, and they made life miserable for Paul. They preached Christ out of selfish ambition and not sincerely (thus, duplicitous). They evidently did this knowing that it would cause Paul grief. And it did. But Paul played the bigger man. One test of genuine Christian character is the ability to rejoice in things going forward that do not have one’s personal stamp on them. What mattered to Paul was not his affirmation but Christ’s proclamation. He admitted that these divisive people were preaching from false motives. But the only thing that mattered to Paul was that the gospel message was preached. That brought Paul great joy.
Good Things with Deliverance or Death
Paul circled back to the topic of his incarceration, to which he alluded in verse 7 and dealt with more directly in verses 12-14. He expressed a confidence of being delivered (saved) from his imprisonment. This confidence was rooted in two things: the church’s prayers (a word that refers to a specific—not generic—request) and the provision (support or help, as in having all the instruments of the orchestra in place to play a piece of music) of the Spirit of Jesus Christ. Paul was conscious that God was at work for his release from prison.
But Paul’s larger concern was whether he would have the sufficient courage (boldness) to face death. He eagerly expected (strained the neck) not to be ashamed by either deliverance or death. He just wanted to ensure that he would honor Christ either way. Verse 21 is one of the highwater marks of this joyful epistle. It is probably read as much as Psalm 23 at funerals. Paul’s life, whether in or out of jail, consisted of living for Christ. But were he to die that would be gain (a financial term in Paul’s world). Paul said something very similar in 2 Corinthians 5:6-9. He remained in good courage. He would like to be with Christ because that is far better. Regardless, he would strive to please Jesus and speak up for him.
Dr. Mark Scott teaches Preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri.
Lesson study ©2018, Christian Standard Media. Lesson based on The Lookout’s Scope and Sequence ©2018. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.