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.