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What Is Philippians About Anyway?

Once I sat in a small class at a church attempting to learn how to study the Bible.  The folks who were teaching the class used Philippians as the example.

The teachers asked the question, “What is Philippians about?”  There were several answers.  The most common was joy.  After all, Paul discusses joy as much a great deal throughout the letter.  The reply back though was no.  After all these years, I don’t recall getting an answer during the class.  Now that I’m preaching through Philippians in my campground ministry, I believe that I have finally seen what the heart of Philippians really is.

Joy is certainly approaching the answer, but there is something just beyond it.  What is the source of Paul’s joy as he writes from his imprisonment in Rome?  It’s one simply word.

The Gospel.

Paul writes that Now, I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel.  No matter what Paul is facing, good or bad, his main concern is the gospel being proclaimed.

We might wonder why Christ or God is not the center of Paul’s thought in Philippians.  The reason is that, for Paul, there is no difference.  If he is talking about God the Father or Christ, then he is discussing the gospel.  And vice versa.  A few years ago I saw a book entitled God Is The Gospel.  Honestly, the title confused me, but I now understand it.  The good news of what Christ did for us on the cross is about God.  The good news is God.  So, for Paul to discuss the Gospel, he is discussing God and Christ.

Paul probably didn’t love being imprisoned.  He was chained to a soldier during his entire stay.  Certainly, it beat a dungeon, but it allowed him no freedom.  On the plus side, he had a captive audience for sharing the Gospel.  He writes So that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else.  It’s untold how many soldiers were chained to Paul during his stay.  They heard and observed Paul.  They saw how what he proclaimed consumed his life.  They saw how his words and actions matched.  It spread throughout them and others.  People talk and the gospel progressed.

That’s not the only way the gospel was spread though.  Paul continues and that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear.  It wasn’t the popular thing during Paul’s time to be a Christian.  Many were afraid of what would happen if they shared their faith.  Paul’s circumstances helped them to trust the Lord for their well being and  be bolder in sharing.  Paul was joyful about this.  He was in jail, but the gospel continued to be proclaimed.

Unfortunately, there seems to have been some who were not unhappy with Paul being in prison.  And this was among believers.  Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife, but some also from good will.  Who would be preaching from envy and strife?  Perhaps those who were jealous of Paul.  Maybe they did not appreciate him still being in contact with those churches he founded.  Maybe they put Paul down or even considered themselves better preachers and pastors than Paul.  Fortunately, this was not the case for all.  Some had the right motivation.

What was the right motivation?  Love.  The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel.  Paul’s role in the Body of Christ was not to pastor in one location.  His job was to go into areas where there was no gospel ministry and proclaim the gospel.  Once the church was established, he left the pastoring those who filled that call.  He still had a love for those churches and loved that love drove their preaching the gospel.

We see a clearer picture of those who preach from envy in strife as Paul continues.  The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment.    Some, it seemed, preached the gospel for their own benefit, rather than the benefit of others.  We continue to get a clearer picture of what the envy and strife caused.  They sought for him to be distressed.  However, this did not work.

What then?  Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice.  Whether or not Paul was free or imprisoned, the Gospel was proclaimed not matter what the motivation was.

So what for us?  Too often we are wrapped up in our own issues and circumstances.  This is what we depend on for our joy and our happiness.  Instead, we should be focused on the gospel, whether our circumstances are good or bad.

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