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Isolation through imprisonment was not a part of Paul’s plans.
At first glance, his imprisonment must have looked like a disruption to his attempts to spread the gospel through his work as a tentmaker and preacher. But Paul stated very clearly that “what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel” (Philippians 1:12).
How? As Philippians 1:13 makes clear, the gospel was able to shine precisely because it gave Paul an opportunity to show that, regardless of circumstances, he was ultimately “in chains for Christ,” willingly shackled to the sovereignty of God.
That hope in the context of Paul’s circumstances must have seemed otherworldly to “the whole palace guard.” Thus, they too came to understand the hope of the gospel.
What application can we draw from this text as you and I work and live in relative isolation? We, like Paul, have unique opportunities to demonstrate the hope of the gospel, not in spite of our circumstances, but precisely because of them. How?
By showing we are concerned, but not anxious. Do we have grounds to be concerned about coronavirus? Of course. Do we have grounds to be anxious? Absolutely not, because we have “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding” because of Christ and his promise to redeem us and the world (Philippians 4:7). In this time of great insecurity, our ultimate security can make the gospel winsome to our co-workers, customers, and friends.
By demonstrating uncommon care for those around us. Now more than ever, Christ-followers should be the ones demonstrating extraordinary concern for the people we work with, beyond what “value” they provide to our companies or teams. This is a moment in which asking more personal questions about family and health is not only acceptable, but sensibly humane. Let us be the co-workers known for caring deeply for the “whole persons” we work with each day.
By sharing our hope explicitly. The two suggestions above can serve as hints to the gospel as our ultimate motivation to love our neighbors, but at some point, we must share the gospel with our words. Now is as good of a time as any. The people in our virtual offices and neighborhoods are craving hope more than ever before. Hope for the world. Hope for their work. Hope for themselves. As Christians, we have the spiritual vaccine that can provide that hope forever. Let us be bold enough to share it and “proclaim the gospel without fear” (Philippians 1:14)!
Philippians 1:1-30 (ESV) -
1 Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus,
To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons: 2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Thanksgiving and Prayer
3 I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, 4 always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. 6 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. 7 It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. 8 For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. 9 And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, 10 so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.
The Advance of the Gospel
12 I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, 13 so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. 14 And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.
15 Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. 16 The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. 18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.
To Live Is Christ
Yes, and I will rejoice, 19 for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, 20 as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. 24 But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.
27 Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with ]one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, 28 and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. 29 For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, 30 engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.
Philippians 4:17 (ESV) -
17 Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit.