Philippians 1:12–18: Joy
It is entirely appropriate to lament our circumstances when we are in the midst of suffering of various kinds. This world is broken because of the curse of sin, and even creation itself groans as it longs for the day when Jesus will return to set things right (Rom. 8:20–23). Suffering becomes even more anguishing when we feel that specific challenges we must endure—illness, injuries, or perhaps imprisonments—might be also keeping us from the work that God has commissioned us to do. But while lament may be appropriate, lament by itself is incomplete. Paul’s reaction to his own circumstances of suffering in Philippians 1:12–18 teaches us that we should not only lament, but also rejoice as we face any kind of trial (cf. Jas. 1:2). By his example, Paul broadens our understanding of what God is doing in and through our afflictions, modeling how we might rejoice in God’s work through our suffering.
Certainly, Paul could have easily made the case that his greatest effectiveness for ministry could only come by getting out of prison and back on the road to plant churches in unreached areas. Nevertheless, in Philippians 1:12–18, Paul rejoices from his prison cell, surrounded by opposition on every side. Neither his personal circumstances nor his external enemies are capable of thwarting the progress of the gospel; even more so, Paul rejoices to see that God has in fact used both kinds of setbacks even to advance the progress of the gospel. Regardless of his miserable conditions, Paul insists that he will rejoice in the new ways. His only requirement for joy is to hear that Christ is proclaimed.
How could Paul possibly see his own suffering in this light? What kind of faith has the ability to look beyond the circumstances of suffering to broader context of the progress of the gospel? Paul will not answer this question fully in this passage, and we will need to keep reading the rest of his letter to the Philippians to understand his secret. Nevertheless, Paul here lays out the first glimpse of the nature of the cruciform life. What Paul models in his prison ministry reflects a cross-centered perspective that he will fully unpack through the rest of this letter.
1. How do you react to Paul’s joy in the midst of his suffering? Does he strike you as a superhero of spirituality? Wise? Disingenuous? Crazy? Do you long to know his secret? What can we learn from Paul’s example under these painful circumstances?
2. What are the situations to which you are “chained”? That is, who has God put in your life that you would not necessarily choose for yourself? How might God work through your chains to advance the gospel? What unexpected opportunities does your present situation give you for “gossiping the gospel”?
3. Do you need to repent of opposing Christian groups who promote a debatable issue (on which you disagree), but who nevertheless preach the gospel? Or, do you need to repent of bitterness toward Christians who offended you in the course of their ministry? How might Paul’s perspective in relation to his rivals and to the progress of the gospel of Christ inform your attitude?
4. In what ways does understanding the heart of God and the mission of God help you endure your own suffering? How does Paul example help you remember and recognize the mysterious ways in which God works through our pain? What practical steps might you take to encourage your heart God’s grace and mercy toward you, regardless of your circumstances?