Rejoicing in the Prospect of Glorification

Although presently in prison and afflicted by rivals in the faith (v.12-18a), Paul was rejoicing. Paul now turns from the present predicament and considers the future prospect of possible deliverance, either from his bonds or his body. In this passage, Paul rejoices knowing that Christ is magnified in ministry by life or by death.

Yes, and I will rejoice,

Yes, and I will rejoice: future tense verb—Paul turns attention away from the present and considers potential deliverance from either his bonds or his body.

19for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance,

For I know that through your prayers: Note that Paul recognizes two sources of aid, one human, the other divine. The first is in this clause: the prayers of the saints. Here is Paul’s human aid—the supplications of the saints. Paul knows these brethren are true Christians, true children of God who have the Father’s ear in prayer. He prays for them; they pray for him.

And the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ: Herein we find the second (divine) source of aid: the support of the Spirit. “Help” is translated from a word meaning “assistance which undergirds and supports” not unlike what a ligament does with a joint (cf. Eph 4.16). The connection between prayer and the Spirit is evident: as supplication ascends, the Spirit descends. As Christians cry for comfort, God sends the Comforter.

This will turn out for my deliverance: “This” means either his imprisonment or the preaching from impure motives. Given his rejoicing in verse 18b of future deliverance, it seems best to understand his imprisonment as what is in view. So by means of the petitions of these saints and the provision of the Spirit Paul was confident that he would be freed (lit. rescued) from his bonds.

Note: Commentators point out that Paul is quoting from the LXX Job 13.16, indicating that Paul is identifying with Job. Job wanted his integrity vindicated (cf. 13.18); Paul wants his apostleship vindicated against his detractors (v.15-17).

20as 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.

As it is my eager expectation and hope: expectation with uplifted head and outstretched neck as though in suspense. It is Paul’s confident expectation (hope)…

That I will not be at all ashamed: Paul is not disgraced by suffering, affliction, imprisonment, or even the voices of rivals. Looking forward to when he takes the stand in his defense of the gospel (v.16), that too will not be a time of disgrace but rather…

But that with full courage now as always: “courage” or “boldness” (NKJV, NASB) carries the idea of freedom to speak especially in times of intimidating circumstances. For Paul circumstances made not difference: whether free or in bonds (cf. Acts 28.31), Paul spoke with liberty “as always” even “now” under Roman guard.

Christ will be honored in my body: It is not enough to have liberty to speak; what one speaks matters. Not a single word, expression, or utterance was to hurt the cause of Christ and fall short doing Him perfect justice. “Boldness of speech was to be his [Paul’s] part, the glory should be Christ’s” (Caffin 5). Christ would be praised whatever Paul did in the body.

Whether by life or by death: Whether the verdict rendered frees him from imprisonment or send him to a martyr’s death, Christ would be glorified. If his freedom led to a furtherance of his apostolic ministry, Christ was glorified. If his captivity led to his faithfulness unto death, Christ would be glorified. These alternatives may seem vastly different, but to Paul they brought the same end: the glorification of Christ in, by, and through him.

21For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.

For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain: In life or in death, in either event “to exalt and glorify Christ was his only incentive in life” (Lipscomb 168). While he lives, he is Christ’s property and Christ is his portion. To die (the act of dying) “is to cash in both principal and interest” thereby gaining a profit (Robertson). “Paul’s only reason for existence is that he may spend his life in that glad service; and death for that cause will be the crowning service.”

22If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell.

If I am to live in the flesh: Paul (or any apostle) was not omniscient; while there are instances where certain future events in his life are revealed by the Spirit (eg. Acts 20.22-23), he (and the other apostles), like we, had to exercise the same faith and patience concerning the future. “In the flesh” amplifies the transitory nature of life in the body.

That means fruitful labor for me: Should he continue to live, it would mean he could do more work as an apostle and through that ministry he would bear more fruit for Christ.

Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell: the dilemma is between the continuance of his apostolic ministry (a good work) or sealing his testimony of Christ in blood (a good witness). This indecision is based on v.21—to live is Christ, to die is gain.

23I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.

I am hard pressed between the two: between dying now and being immediately with God, Christ or living longer to preach and spread the gospel, glorify God in the flesh. Life or death…

My desire…be with Christ: the word for “desire” (Gk epithumian) is nearly always used of evil desires (i.e lust), however, used in this context means a deep desire. The idea of this departure is that of a ship loosing anchor; thus, Paul’s heart’s desire is to raise anchor on this life and set sail into the vast ocean of eternity and “be with Christ” infinitely.

For that is far better: Why does Paul desire this? This option is “by much very far better.” It is as if he is unable to find the words necessary to describe the glory of this hope.

24But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.

But to remain…on your account: while Paul has a deep desire to be with Christ. However, Paul understands the difference between wants and needs. What is more needful, what is required given the current situation, is for Paul to remain in his body, alive. Personally, death is the “far better” option; for the sake of his brethren, though, he must stay “in the flesh.”

25Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith,

Convinced of this: That it is indispensible for him to remain in the flesh for his brethren. Paul reasons to this conclusion based on his assessment of the situation.

I know…with you all: Paul’s knowing is based upon his assessment of the situation and drawing conclusions. “His knowledge was not necessarily derived from special revelation or from mere presentiment, but represents firm personal conviction that he would survive his present imprisonment” (Caffin 19).  Since what is needful is for him to remain in the flesh, he will not depart (“remain”) and survive (“continue with”) you all. Paul doubles synonyms here to emphasize this point. Some see a somewhat poetic statement here, especially the latter part which literally says Paul will “remain by the side” of these brethren.

For your progress and joy in the faith: Paul’s survival through all his trials is for the purpose stated here. Paul remaining in the flesh was for the joyful progress of the faith of these brethren. Joy springs when Christians advance and grow in the faith. “The farther a man proceeds in the way of truth, the stronger his faith will be; and the stronger his faith, the greater his joy or happiness” (Clarke).

26so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.

So that in me…in Christ Jesus: Herein lies the ultimate design of Paul’s continuance in the flesh: that at some future point he would return and these Christians would overflow with praise and glory to Christ Jesus. After all the prayers and petitions to God, to have their brother released and returned would be a joyous occasion. Certainly this would a time when the church could advance even further (joyfully) in the faith as Paul imparted apostolic teaching, applied old truth to new circumstances, impart spiritual gifts, and deepen the dependence of these Christians on the Lord.

Because of my coming to you again: lit. because of my presence (Gk parousias), a word used often in the New Testament to speak of the second coming of Christ. It is Paul’s personal presence back with the Philippians which is in view.

Rejoicing in Proclamation of the Gospel

After thanksgiving and prayer Paul turns to his own imprisonment. Some debate exists about which imprisonment: Roman or Caesarean. It seems best to understand this to be Paul’s Roman imprisonment when he also penned Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon.

The Gospel Advances in spite of Imprisonment (1.12-14)

In spite of Paul’s imprisonment the gospel of God has advanced and brethren all over have been emboldened.

12I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel,

I want you to know, brothers: Paul desires for his Christian brethren to be aware of a certain fact. Perhaps the Philippians had feared that Paul’s imprisonment had hindered the spread of the gospel, a message relayed by Epaphroditus. So Paul writes to assuage that fear.

That what has happened to me: what has happened is he has been imprisoned due to his preaching of the gospel. The latter half of Acts details many events resulting from that imprisonment, but rather than dwell on those, he address a point for rejoicing.

Has really served to advance the gospel: The gospel is not hindered by fetters, chains, or bars. Though Paul is bound as a criminal, “The Word of God is not bound” (2 Tim 2.9). That is what is most important to Paul and which produces joy in him.

13so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ.

Paul introduces two results of the spread of the gospel: 1) outsiders know why Paul is imprisoned (for Christ, v.13), and 2) believers are emboldened by his imprisonment (v.14).

So that it has…my imprisonment is for Christ: He may have seemed like every other prisoner which darkened a prison cell, but it soon became known that he suffered imprisonment not for crimes but for Christ. Word spread through the whole Praetorian regiment (those guards whose barracks were attached to Nero’s palace). This is the cohort connected with “Caesar’s household” (see 4.22). Word also spread “to all the rest” which is to say the whole city of Rome heard about the prisoner for Christ and apparently came to hear him preach while he was under house arrest (see Acts 28.30). Among these are brethren in Rome.

14And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.  

And most of the brothers: not every brother; some remain timid or half-hearted. But  certainly not just those gifted with preaching and teaching; the majority of the brethren are in view here. Hearing about Paul’s plight in prison had an effect upon these Christians in Rome.

Having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment: The Roman Christians found new courage, courage afresh which came by the Lord through Paul’s imprisonment. Seeing God’s grace in Paul’s life assured them of God’s grace in their life. Since Paul was supported and sustained even during his persecution, God would do likewise for all His saints. “They saw in Paul, as they had never seen before, the presence, power, and sufficient grace of Christ” (Wesley).

Are much more bold to speak the word without fear: the language here denotes that these Christians had had a certain level of confidence and boldness already. But upon hearing of the Paul’s imprisonment, the boldness they had exceeded to a much greater degree enabling them to speak (contrast with “preach” v.15, and “proclaim” v.17, 18) God’s word fearlessly. When these Christians realized they had the authority and power of heaven behind the very words they spoke, boldness came and fear fled. Instead of being silent, more brethren than ever with more courage than ever were fearlessly speaking aloud the Word of God (Lenski).

The Gospel Advances in spite of Impure Motives (1.15-18a)

Paul rejoices that in spite of the impure motives (of some) the gospel of Christ is preached.

15Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will.

Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry: present tense verb indicates this preaching is happening even as Paul writes. Interesting that even those who wished Paul evil were stirred up tp preach the Christ. Though their motivation was wrong, Paul rejoiced that the message of Christ went forth and was “announced” (Gk. from kerusso).

But others from good will: Not everyone was an antagonist; some were benevolent.

[Technical textual note: The KJV & NKJV have verses 16-17 in reverse order than the ESV (and most other versions including the ASV, NASB and NIV). This has to do with manuscript variants—some  manuscripts read 17 then 16; other (older) mss read 16-17.]

16The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel.

The latter do it out of love: those kindly-hearted brethren preach Christ from a heart of love. Love for whom? Paul or Christ? Certainly both! These, then, became apologists not only for Christ but also for Paul, the prisoner of the Lord.

Knowing that…defense of the gospel: here is the theological perspective of Paul. He understands that God has appointed and ordained for him to be exactly where he is. Further, this was a military term indicating that Paul was enduring his imprisonment as a good soldier of Christ. When forced into the fray he will bravely defend the Christian faith. Paul’s supporters are well aware of this.

17The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment.

The former…in my imprisonment: Contrast this conduct with the noble and magnanimous spirit of Paul. These rivals of Paul are resentful (based on jealousy toward Paul) and desire to put themselves forward. Their motives are mixed and impure. All this is done to (if possible) kick Paul while he’s down. They stirred up trouble for Paul, seeking to add to his suffering. They sought to aggravate his burden and cause him additional pain.

18What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.

What then? What does it matter? As he assesses his situation and the situation involving the Christian church with these factious brethren, he singles out the main thing and is gladdened by the one all-important fact…

Only that…Christ is proclaimed: the continual proclamation of Christ, free from heresy and perversion, regardless of mixed motives. The full gospel is preached (not an anemic gospel like Judaizers would bring). This is not “Some Christ is better than no Christ” (A.T. Robertson) – Paul would not tolerate another gospel featuring another Christ. This is Paul rejoicing over full proclamation of the full gospel, the true gospel feature the true Christ, regardless of personal motivation.

And in that I rejoice: “In all his affliction and personal grief, in all his disapproval of sinful partisanship and insincerity of action and the preaching under a cloak in the case of some preachers, the joy in the progress of the gospel, in the fact that Christ is preached, ever dominates” (Muller 56).

Special Study—Paul’s Rivals

Who are these men who Paul identifies in vs.15-18 who preached Christ from envy and rivalry, not sincerely, and in pretense? That they are brothers in Christ seems evident from v.14 where “most of the brothers” have been emboldened to speak the word without fear based on Paul’s imprisonment. Paul breaks that group down into two parties: “some” preaching Christ from mixed motives and “others” who preach Christ from good motives (v.15). Most commentators jump on the Judaizer bandwagon (cf. 3.2ff); however, based on what Paul writes in Galatians about Judaizers it doesn’t seem he would rejoice in their perverted doctrine even if Christ is proclaimed. These brother’s motives are mixed, not the message. It seems best to understand these rivals as a factious group who view the imprisonment of Paul as discrediting the Christian message. They appear to be a faction whose strategy is to excel in power and exude success so as to compete in an ancient religious market rife with pagan teachers. Paul’s imprisonment could torpedo their efforts at gaining ground. So they denounce Paul’s imprisonment (“thinking to afflict me”). In short, they were pro-Christ but anti-Paul.