Today we’re coming to Philippians 1:12-18, so let’s take the time to read these verses.
Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the Gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the Gospel without fear.
It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the Gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains.
But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.
This is the Philippian version of Romans 8:28, the verse that says, “For we know that all things work together for good for those who love the Lord and are called according to His purpose. I have a book devoted to that subject, and it’s entitled God Works All Things Together for Your Good. In the prologue, I wrote:
Problems can last a long time, but they can’t last forever. Promises can, and God’s promises do… We live in a world of catastrophes and calamities, and none of us knows what will happen next. Without God’s oversight, our futures are like scraps of paper scattering in the wind. But under his oversight, they’re like pages of hope indelibly written by grace. The Scriptures teach we have a God who turns problems inside out—all our perils and perplexities…. In Christ, we have an ironclad, unfailing, all-encompassing, God-given guarantee that every single circumstance in life will sooner or later turn out well for those committed to Him.
Paul had written Romans 8:28 three or four years beforehand, but now he demonstrates it in his own circumstances. I want to base my outline in this message on verse 12, where Paul wrote What has happened to me has actually served to advance the Gospel.
I have three points: 1. What has happened to me; 2. Has actually served; and 3. To advance the Gospel. Let’s begin with this phrase: What has happened.
1) What Has Happened…
Years ago, there was a television series called the West Wing, and in one dramatic episode, an assassin fired at the President. He and several of his staff were wounded. As the President looked through the windows of the hospital intensive care unit, he looked stunned and simply said, “Look what happened.” It was such a simple sentence, but it expressed the shock we feel when unexpected things take place.
None of us know what’s going to happen between now and this time tomorrow. An unexpected phone call in the middle of the night could change our lives. A destructive weapon could be unleashed somewhere in the world. We don’t know what’s going to happen to us personally and we don’t know what’s going to happen to us globally. The word “happen” implies the unpredictability of life.
Paul used this word three times in this chapter:
- Verse 12: Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me…
- Verse 19: …what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance.
- Verse 27: What happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ.
What had happened to Paul?
I’ve described this previously as I gave the background of the letter, but we can sum it up by saying Acts 22 through 28 happened. That phrase “what has happened” is a reference to the last seven chapters of the book of Acts. In Acts 20 and 21, Paul was on his way to Jerusalem to finish his third missionary journey. He was eager for his fourth. In fact, he had spent three months in Corinth planning it and writing to the Romans, telling them he was coming. That’s when he included Romans 8:28 in his letter to them. But when he got to Jerusalem, his presence provoked a riot. He was seized by the Romans, imprisoned in Caesarea for two years, and then put aboard a ship for Rome. The ship crashed in a storm, and Paul was beached on the island of Malta, where he was bitten by a viper. Then he was transported as a prisoner to Rome where he was under house arrest for another two years. That’s where the book of Acts ends. Now my own view is that Paul was finally on the verge of his trial before Nero, and later in the chapter he explains that he doesn’t know the outcome. And he said it didn’t matter a great deal to him, for to live is Christ and to die is gain. But he seemed optimistic he would be set free.
That is what had happened!
What has happened to you? Paul isn’t the only person whose plans fell apart. He’s not the only person who has faced hardship. We all have! Perhaps something has happened to you that has taken the wind out of your sails, the bounce out of your step, the twinkle out of your eye, and the joy out of your heart.
Well, that brings us to our next phrase: What has happened to me has actually served….
2) … Has Actually Served…
The word “actually” is the Greek word mallon, which means on the contrary or rather or instead of. In other words, “The things that have happened to me have—contrary to what people might have thought—turned out for good. This is implied by the word actually.
For example, suppose you said to me, “You must be very tired.” I might reply, “Actually I feel great. I’m full of energy.”
So Paul is saying, “People think what happened to me has hurt me and hindered the Gospel, but actually the exact opposite has occurred.”
What has happened to me has actually served….
That’s an amazing word. What has happened to me—all my seeming misfortune and delay and imprisonment—all of that has actually served…. The circumstances of my life have become servants of Christ’s commands.
Our circumstances bow before Jesus. We may not be able to control them, and chaos may seem to reign. But the Savior who turned water to wine and death to life can bring about a mutation, a transfiguration, a reversal, an evolution of our circumstances. The Savior can turn our circumstances into His servants for the advancement of His kingdom.
This is part of redemption.
Mariana Laskava is a missionary to Ukraine with Word of Life. She works in a Bible Institute near Kyiv and coaches students in evangelism. When the Russian Invasion started, she was given less than an hour to evacuate. She fled with only a small suitcase and ended up in Spain. Now she’s planning to return. She told a journalist:
When you go into a storm like war, if you have a close relationship with God, you go through the storm holding on to something stable.
The emotions, the trauma that you go through can be very damaging, but if you hold on to God, the true Strong Tower, you can know the Lord even more….
In this storm, we have been able to bring the gospel to many people. In places where they have been left without homes, without resources, 90% of the volunteers working in Ukraine are Christians.
The churches are filling up with people who don’t know Christ.
One church in Kiev that I know well is holding the meetings outside the church building, because inside there is room for about 80 people and there are services where they have over 300 people attending. They are doing activities for children, for women.
I have seen churches celebrating baptisms. So God is glorified even in the midst of the darkest hours of our country.
And that brings us to the last phrase of the sentence: Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the Gospel.
3) …To Advance the Gospel
That was all that was on Paul’s mind—advancing the Gospel. Do you know that he used the word “Gospel” more intensely in Philippians than in any other of his thirteen books. In other words, Philippians has 104 verses, and Paul used the word Gospel nine times. In terms of proportions and percentages, there’s a greater concentration of the use of this word than in his other letters. The book of Romans is his only letter that uses the word “Gospel” more, but it has sixteen chapters. Just look here in Philippians, chapter 1.
- In verse 5, Paul said he was partnering with the church in the spread of the Gospel.
- In verse 7 he said he was in chains for confirming the Gospel.
- Here in verse 12, he’s talking about advancing the Gospel.
- In verse 14, he wants to proclaim the Gospel.
- In verse 16, he is defending the Gospel.
- In verse 27, he wants the Philippians to live in a manner worthy of the Gospel… striving together for the faith of the Gospel.
When I see his zeal for the Gospel, I’m ashamed of myself. I’m ready to rededicate myself. How much does your zeal in life reflect Paul’s concern for the advancement of the Gospel?
And so he goes on to explain that what had happened to him—his adversity—had actually served to advance the Gospel in two ways.
(1) The Pretorian Guard
Paul explains in verse 13 that because of his chains, the whole guard unit and everyone else around had heard the gospel and learned that Christ was the reason he proudly bore his chains.
(2) The Emboldened Believers
Second, Paul writes that his chains empowered and strengthened his fellow believers so they might better share their faith with all boldness and confidence.
Recently I preached at First Baptist Church in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. My friend, Dr. Matt Brooks and I were looking forward to having lunch with his family. But I learned that due to flight changes I’d been rebooked to Nashville through Austin, Texas. I had to rush to the airport to make the earlier flight. But when I got to Austin, I learned the flight to Nashville had been canceled. Finally they booked me to Charlotte, North Carolina. When I got to Charlotte, the flight to Nashville was having mechanical problems, and we didn’t board until nearly midnight when all of us passengers—and the crew too, I think—were almost comatose. When I boarded the flight, my seat was 1-A in first class, but someone was already sitting in that seat. I told the flight attendant I would sit anywhere, but he said that I could not sit anywhere. I could only sit in seat 1-A. I had expected a short non-stop flight, and instead I spent countless hours bouncing around the country on flight after flight! But God worked all things for my good and his glory, and because of my seat upgrade, I was able to share the gospel with a professional baseball player whose uncle is a legendary hall of fame baseball star. Praise God for how He works it all together! What has happened actually served to advance the Gospel.