God sometimes uses strange tools to help us pioneer the Gospel. In Paul’s case, there were three tools that helped him take the Gospel to the elite guards, Caesar’s special troops. In Part 1, we looked at the first tool: Paul’s chains. Now, we will consider the next two tools.
Paul’s Critics (1:15–19)
It is hard to believe that anyone would oppose Paul, but there were believers in Rome doing just that. The churches there were divided. Some preached Christ sincerely, wanting to see people saved. Others preached Christ insincerely, wanting to make the situation more difficult for Paul. The latter group was using the Gospel to further their own selfish purposes. Perhaps they belonged to the “legalistic” wing of the church that opposed Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles and his emphasis on the grace of God, as opposed to obedience to the Jewish Law. Envy and strife go together, just as love and unity go together.
Paul’s aim was to glorify Christ and get people to follow Him; his critics’ aim was to promote themselves and win a following of their own. Instead of asking, “Have you trusted Christ?” they asked, “Whose side are you on—ours or Paul’s?” Unfortunately, this kind of “religious politics” is still seen today. And the people who practice it need to realize they are only hurting themselves.
When you have the single mind, you look on your critics as another opportunity for the furtherance of the Gospel. Like a faithful soldier, Paul was “put here [appointed] for the defense of the Gospel” (1:16). He was able to rejoice, not in the selfishness of his critics, but in the fact that Christ was being preached! There was no envy in Paul’s heart. It mattered not that some were for him and some were against him. All that mattered was the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ!
It is a matter of historic record that the two great English evangelists, John Wesley and George Whitefield, disagreed on doctrinal matters. Both of them were very successful, preaching to thousands of people and seeing multitudes come to Christ. It is reported that somebody asked Wesley if he expected to see Whitefield in heaven and the evangelist replied, “No, I do not.”
“Then you do not think Whitefield is a converted man?”
“Of course he is a converted man!” Wesley said. “But I do not expect to see him in heaven—because he will be so close to the throne of God and I so far away that I will not be able to see him!” Though he differed with his brother in some matters, Wesley did not have any envy in his heart, nor did he seek to oppose Whitefield’s ministry.
Criticism is usually very hard to take, particularly when we are in difficult circumstances, as Paul was. How was the apostle able to rejoice even in the face of such diverse criticism? He possessed the single mind! Philippians 1:19 indicates that Paul expected his case to turn out victoriously (“to my deliverance”) because of the prayers of his friends and the supply of the Holy Spirit of God. Paul was not depending on his own dwindling resources; he was depending on the generous resources of God, ministered by the Holy Spirit.
Paul shared in the pioneer advance of the Gospel in Rome through his chains and his critics; but he had a third tool that he used.
Paul’s Crisis (1:20–26)
As we have seen because of Paul’s chains, Christ was known (1:13) and because of Paul’s critics, Christ was preached (1:18). But now, we see because of Paul’s crisis, Christ was magnified! (1:20). While it was possible Paul would be found a traitor to Rome and then executed, his preliminary trial had apparently gone in his favor. Although the final verdict was yet to come, Paul’s body was not his own and his only desire (because he had the “single mind”) was to magnify Christ in his body.
Does Christ need to be magnified? After all, how can a mere human being ever magnify the Son of God? Well, the stars are much bigger than the telescope, and yet the telescope magnifies them and brings them closer. The believer’s body is to be a telescope that brings Jesus Christ close to people. To the average person, Christ is a misty figure in history who lived centuries ago. But as the unsaved watch the believer go through a crisis, they can see Jesus magnified and brought so much closer. To the Christian with the single mind, Christ is with us here and now.
The telescope brings distant things closer and the microscope makes tiny things look big. To the unbeliever, Jesus is not very big. Other people and other things are far more important. But as the unbeliever watches the Christian go through a crisis experience, he ought to be able to see how big Jesus really is. The believer’s body is a “lens” that makes a “little Christ” look very big and a “distant Christ” come very close.
Paul was not afraid of life or death! Either way, he wanted to magnify Christ in his body. No wonder he had joy!
Paul confesses he is facing a difficult decision. To remain alive was necessary for the believers’ benefit in Philippi, but to depart and be with Christ was far better. Paul decided that Christ would have him remain, not only for the “advance of the Gospel” (1:12), but also for the “progress and joy in their faith” (1:25). He wanted them to make some “pioneer advance” into new areas of spiritual growth. (Paul also admonished Timothy, the young pastor, to be sure to pioneer new spiritual territory in his own life and ministry, 1 Tim. 4:15).
What a man Paul is! He is willing to postpone going to heaven in order to help Christians grow and he is willing to go to hell in order to win the lost to Christ! (Rom. 9:1–3)
Of course, death had no terrors for Paul. It simply meant “departing.” This word was used by the soldiers; it meant “to take down your tent and move on.” What a picture of Christian death! The “tent” we live in is taken down at death and the spirit goes home to be with Christ in heaven (2 Cor. 5:1–8).
Departure was also a political term; it described the setting free of a prisoner. God’s people are in bondage because of the limitations of the body and the temptations of the flesh, but death will free them. Or they will be freed at the return of Christ (Rom. 8:18–23) if that should come first.
Finally, departure was a word used by the farmers; it meant “to unyoke the oxen.” Paul had taken Christ’s yoke, which is an easy yoke to bear (Matt. 11:28–30), but how many burdens he carried in his ministry! (If you need your memory refreshed, read 2 Cor. 11:22–12:10.) To depart to be with Christ would mean laying aside the burdens, his earthly work completed.
No matter how you look at it, nothing can steal a man’s joy if he possesses the single mind! “For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (1:21). What makes you come alive? The thing that excites us and “turns us on” is the thing that really is “life” to us. In Paul’s case, Christ was his life. Christ excited him and made his life worth living.
Philippians 1:21 becomes a valuable test of our lives: “For me, to live is__________ and to die is_________.” Fill in the blanks yourself.
- For me, to live is money and to die is to leave it all behind.
- For me, to live is fame and to die is to be forgotten.
- For me, to live is power and to die is to lose it all.
No, we must echo Paul’s convictions if we are going to have joy in spite of circumstances and if we are going to share in the advance of the Gospel: “For me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain!”