1:12 I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that my situation has actually turned out to advance the gospel. 1:13 The results of this are that the whole imperial guard and everyone else knows that I am in prison for the sake of Christ, 1:14 and that most of the brothers, having confidence in the Lord because of my imprisonment, now more than ever dare to speak the word without fear.
1:15 Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from goodwill. 1:16 The latter do so from love because they know that I am placed here for the defense of the gospel. 1:17 The former proclaim Christ from selfish ambition, not sincerely, because they think they can cause trouble for me in my imprisonment. 1:18 What is the result? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is being proclaimed, and in this I rejoice.
A. Paul’s Circumstances (1:12-18a)
1. The Advancement of the Gospel through Preaching (1:12-14)
a. General Statement about Paul’s Circumstances (1:12)
b. The Whole Imperial Guard Knows (1:13)
c. Other Brothers Speak the Word (1:14)
2. The Motivations for Preaching (1:15-18a)
a. General Statement about Preaching (1:15)
b. Preaching from Right Motives (1:16)
c. Preaching from Wrong Motives (1:17)
d. The Result: Christ is Preached! (1:18a)
B. Paul’s Attitude of Rejoicing (1:18b-26)
1. In Light of His Expectations (18b-21)
a. To Be Released (1:18b-19)
b. To Exalt Christ (1:20-21)
2. In Light of His Future (1:22-26)
a. Regarding Productive Ministry (1:22-23)
b. Regarding Ministry to the Philippians (1:24-26)
Having thanked God for the Philippians’ long term support and participation in the gospel with him (1:3-8)—as well as having prayed for their love and fruitfulness in Christian living (1:9-11)—the apostle now moves on to relate, unfortunately only in general terms, what the effects of his imprisonment are (1:12-26). Contrary to what the Philippians may have thought or expected, his “chains” have really served to advance the gospel. As always, the apostle views life as it relates to the progress of the gospel and the concomitant blessing experienced by those who welcome it. Thus, should he be released—and this is what he expects to happen—he will continue to work with the Philippians for their progress and joy in the faith (1:25). He can think of no other course of action fitting for his life. Paul’s attitude can be summarized in eight words: “To know Christ (3:10-11) and to make him known (1:22)!
Further, there can hardly be any doubt that one of the reasons Paul describes his own experience in 1:12-26, even if the Philippians had expressed an interest in it when they sent him their gift, was not simply to inform them of his situation, but also to give them a “pattern” to live by (cf. 1:26-30; 3:17; 4:9). Knowing that both he and they shared the same struggle (1:30), Paul never lost an opportunity to “show the way” toward proper Christian living in a fallen world.43
There are several connections in 1:12-26 to what Paul has said in 1:3-11. First, there is the repeated theme of prayer. In 1:3-4 Paul prays for the Philippians and in 1:19 he is counting on their prayers for him. Second, the gospel and its furtherance is a main theme in 1:3-8 as it is in 1:12-26 (cf. too 1:27ff). Third, in the same way Paul was confident that God would perfect or carry on his good work in them until the day of Christ, I think he also, in light of 1:20, felt that God would carry on his good work in him. Fourth, the issue of the defense and confirmation of the gospel sounded in 1:7 is generally the context for 1:12-26 and is taken up specifically and somewhat surprisingly with respect to other Christians in 1:16. Fifth, Paul’s joyful and Christ-like attitude in his imprisonment is an example of being “filled with righteousness,” and recalls the content of his prayer for the Philippians in 1:11. Such an attitude also anticipates the sufferings of Christ in 2:5-11. Sixth, Paul’s willingness to remain on in the body for the sake of the Philippians (1:24-25) is an example of deciding or approving what is best (1:10).
Paul transitions, then, from the introduction to the letter (1:1-11) to the body of the letter (1:12ff) through the use of a common formula: “I want you to know, brothers and sisters...” The formula “I want you to know” (ginoskein de humas boulomai) was common in Paul’s culture, though he nowhere else uses it specifically in this setting, that is, to introduce the body of the letter with a description of his situation primarily in mind (but cf. Col. 2:1; see also Rom 1:13; 11:25; 1 Cor 10:1; 11:3; 12:1; 2 Cor 1:8; 1 Thess 4:13 for similar constructions). There are several papyri which have the same formula, i.e., “I want you to know,” and then follow it with facts about how the writer is doing, his safety, feelings, and activities.44 An oft-cited second century CE example reads as follows:
Apollinarius to Taesis, his mother and lady, many greetings. Before all I pray for your health. I myself am well and make supplication for you before the gods of this place.
I wish you to know, mother, that I arrived in Rome in good health on the 25th of the month of Pachon and was posted to Misenum….45
Paul may have been using a similar style current in his day, but he is unique in his focus on Christ and the gospel. Thus it is not a mere trifle as an introduction, but he sincerely wants them to know about what’s happening in his life. We will proceed now to look in detail at this section in which the apostle informs his readers of what’s going on around him and how he feels about it.
The focus in vv. 12-14 concerns the advancement of the gospel through preaching, in spite of the fact that Paul is in prison. In fact, it seems that the gospel is moving ahead because he is in prison. As a result the entire imperial guard knows why Paul is in chains and other brothers are speaking the word with greater daring.
In verse 12 Paul gives a general statement about the contents to follow in the paragraph (i.e., in vv. 13-26). It concerns Paul letting the brothers know about the advance of the gospel because of his circumstances.
The term brothers is used by Paul approximately 133 times in his letters to express his close personal relationship to other Christians on the basis of their new family relationship in Christ (e.g., Rom 1:13; 1 Cor 1:10; 2 Cor 1:8; Gal 3:15; Eph 6:23; Phil 1:12, 14; 2:25; 3:1, 13, 17; 4:1, 8, 21; Col 1:2; 1 Thess 1:4; 2 Thess 1:3; Philemon 1). It is used nine times in Philippians alone, and even—if not used sarcastically—includes those who tried to stir up trouble for the apostle while he was in prison (1:14-15). Thus everyone who is a genuine Christian is a brother in the family although many “brothers” do not act as they ought. The term itself probably comes out of Paul’s Jewish heritage, though for him it expresses the distinctive relationship that exists between those who are in Christ. Since we are all “sons of God by faith” (Gal 3:26-28) we are, therefore, “brothers” by new birth into a new family. Further, it should also be pointed out that the term “brothers” in v. 12 definitely includes Christian women as well, and is thus translated as “brothers and sisters” in the NET bible It is unlikely, however, that the same term in 1:14 includes women. There it probably refers to men only.
Paul says to his Christian brothers that what has happened to him has actually turned out to advance the gospel. The noun translated “advance” (prokopen) appears first in the literature of the Hellenistic period (5th through 3rd centuries BCE). The verbal form was originally a technical term from the nautical world meaning “to make headway in spite of blows” referring to a ship at sea striving against the wind. Both the verb and the noun came to mean “progress” and were in and of themselves neutral, not referring specifically to progress in something evil or something good. They were also used in Stoic philosophy to speak of the movement from being unwise to possessing wisdom.46 There is also an excellent example of the use of the term in 2 Maccabees 8:8.47 In some ways this example parallels the use of the term in Phil 1:12. We will look at the entire passage in 2 Maccabees 8:1-11 to get the big picture. It reads as follows:
8:1 Meanwhile Judas, who was also called Maccabeus, and his companions secretly entered the villages and summoned their kindred and enlisted those who had continued in the Jewish faith, and so they gathered about six thousand. 2They implored the Lord to look upon the people who were oppressed by all; and to have pity on the temple that had been profaned by the godless; 3to have mercy on the city that was being destroyed and about to be leveled to the ground; to hearken to the blood that cried out to him; 4 to remember also the lawless destruction of the innocent babies and the blasphemies committed against his name; and to show his hatred of evil.
5 As soon as Maccabeus got his army organized, the Gentiles could not withstand him, for the wrath of the Lord had turned to mercy. 6 Coming without warning, he would set fire to towns and villages. He captured strategic positions and put to flight not a few of the enemy. 7 He found the nights most advantageous for such attacks. And talk of his valor spread everywhere.
8 When Philip saw that the man was gaining ground (eis prokopen) little by little, and that he was pushing ahead with more frequent successes, he wrote to Ptolemy, the governor of Coelesyria and Phoenicia, to come to the aid of the king’s government. 9 Then Ptolemy promptly appointed Nicanor son of Patroclus, one of the king’s chief Friends, and sent him, in command of no fewer than twenty thousand Gentiles of all nations, to wipe out the whole race of Judea. He associated with him Gorgias, a general and a man of experience in military service. 10 Nicanor determined to make up for the king the tribute due to the Romans, two thousand talents, by selling the captured Jews into slavery. 11 So he immediately sent to the towns on the seacoast, inviting them to buy Jewish slaves and promising to hand over ninety slaves for a talent, not expecting the judgment from the Almighty that was about to overtake him (NRSV, italics mine).
Thus in 2 Maccabees 8:8 it refers to an army making steady headway by winning a succession of small but important battles—in spite of overwhelming odds.
Paul uses prokope to refer to his own progress and advancement in Judaism as a young man (Gal 1:14). He also uses the term in reference to the progress he wants Timothy to evidence as he gives himself fully to his pastoral concerns (1 Tim 4:15). Paul also uses prokope in a negative sense to refer to the progress in evil that false teachers are engaged in (2 Tim 3:9, 13). Here in Phil 1:12 it refers to the progress of the gospel in spite of what might naturally have been thought to impede its progress (cf. Thess 3:1). This progress is not only to be understood in terms of the number of people now preaching the gospel because of Paul’s imprisonment, or even hypothetically to the number people now accepting the gospel because of Paul’s imprisonment, but also to the changed lives among some of the brothers who now have more courage to speak the word. The fact that it is used again in v. 25 with respect to the Philippians’ growth not only brackets this section off as a unit, i.e., vv. 12-26, but also serves to confirm the idea that the “progress of the gospel” includes more than just Christ being preached; it also includes the effects of such preaching, both among non-Christians (1:13) and Christians (1:14).
As a result of the gospel making inroads in people’s lives, Paul says the whole imperial guard and everyone else knows that he is in chains because of Christ. Paul was in prison not because he had committed some crime against the state, but because he was a Christian and because he preached the gospel. But this may not be all that he means by the expression that I am in prison for the sake of Christ. The wording in the Greek text makes it somewhat difficult to be certain as to Paul’s exact meaning here, but he may be referring to the fact that he is in prison as one who shares in Christ’s sufferings. Thus, it may be a similar meaning to that found in 3:10 where he talks about sharing in Christ’s sufferings.48
In any event, the knowledge that his imprisonment is connected to Christ—and not some crime, political or otherwise—has become known throughout the whole imperial guard. There have been a number of suggestions as to the exact meaning of this expression, “whole imperial guard,” read in the Greek text as holo to praitorio. The term praitorio is a Latin loanword (from praetorium) attested in Greek inscriptions and papyri. In time the word came to refer to a “governor’s official residence” (see Matt 27:27; Mark 15:16; John 18:28, 33; 19:9; Acts 23:35).49 O’Brien lists four meanings typically suggested, all of which also impact upon the place of origin of the letter. The “whole imperial guard” could refer to: (1) the emperor’s palace. But there is no example of the term used in this way; (2) the “barracks attached to the imperial palace” and the small group of praetorian guards stationed there. But the term is not used in this way and the space is too small to be equated with the “whole imperial guard” with its 9000 soldiers; (3) the “large permanent camp of the praetorian soldiers.” But this camp was not known as the “praetorium.” (4) “men,” and not a place, that is, those men who made up the praetorian guard. This last solution is perhaps the best because the term is used extensively in this manner in papyri and the personal referent is in keeping with Paul’s subsequent comment about “everyone else” which is also personal.50 The reference to everyone else probably refers to others who had dealings with imperial affairs and had occasion to be in Rome and learn that Paul was in prison for preaching Christ.51
Paul says that those outside of the church, i.e., the whole imperial guard and others too, had heard about Christ as a result of his “chains” (v. 13). But there were also those on the inside, that is, Christians who had been affected by Paul’s imprisonment for the gospel (v. 14). The reference to most of the brothers refers to Christians who were in the Roman church. Some have suggested that these were Christians in other churches like Corinth and Thessalonica, or even Philippi. The latter of these interpretations, namely, Philippi, is a most unnatural reading of the text. Since Paul refers to the impact of his imprisonment upon the imperial guard in Rome (v. 13), it is likely that in v. 14 he is referring to the impact of his imprisonment on the church in Philippi. Further, there is nothing in the text to suggest that he means any other place other than where he is—i.e., Rome. He is certainly not referring to the Philippian church since they had shared with him in the ministry of the gospel for a long time (Phil 1:5-8). What is somewhat lamentable is the fact that his imprisonment only spurred on “most” and not “all” of the brothers to speak the word. And, further, it is lamentable that it took the imprisonment of another brother to bring this about, and that even then some of the Christians did not do it with proper motivation (1:15-18a). In the end, however, Paul rejoices for at least the gospel is going forth. Those preaching the gospel in this manner stand in sharp contrast to the solid character found in Christ (2:6-11), and men like Timothy and Epaphroditus (2:19-30)—men who were not opportunistic, but instead gave their lives to the faith and furtherance of the gospel.
Nonetheless, the example Paul set while he was in prison had made a deep impact on most of the brothers. As I said above, it is somewhat lamentable that it took Paul’s imprisonment to get them moving, but their increased courage is nonetheless to be applauded. This elevated courage, however, came firstly and ultimately from the Lord: “Most of the brothers, having confidence in the Lord…dare to speak the word without fear.” It was because of their relationship with Christ that they were spurred on to share the gospel. Paul’s chains were only the occasion, not the grounds, for their confidence. We too must remember that God can use the present situation to motivate us, but ultimately that motivation has to come from him if the resulting deed is to be done in a way that pleases him.
These “brothers,” who experienced greater courage because of their relationship with the Lord and because of Paul’s imprisonment, now more than ever, dare[d] to speak the word without fear. The term dared means to have moral courage to act without fear of embarrassment or physical harm. After Jesus had responded to all their questions and they were thoroughly embarrassed, the Pharisees did not dare ask Jesus any more questions (Matt 22:46; Mark 12:34; Luke 20:40). That is, they didn’t have the moral courage. At bottom they were cowards who could not take the chance that their world might get messed up with some new facts. The disciples, after seeing Jesus alive, did not dare ask him who he was (John 21:12). Mark 15:43 provides us with an example that relates more to daring to do something in spite of the probability of physical harm. In this passage Mark describes the courage of Joseph of Arimathea who dared to ask Pilate for the body of Jesus in spite of (the possibility of) the threat to his life. Further, Acts 7:32 speaks about Moses who, in holy fear, did not dare to look at the Lord and Romans 5:7 speaks about someone who might dare to die on behalf of a good man (cf. also Jude 9). When the brothers in Rome dared to speak the word, there existed a threat to them as well. The threat to the Roman church and the reason they feared may well be due to certain political realities under foot during the reign of Nero. Commenting on this, Fee says:
This probably reflects the historical situation in Rome in the early 60s, when Nero’s madness was peaking and the church there had begun to fall under suspicion, as Nero’s program against them just a couple of years later bears witness. The present situation in Rome for followers of Christ had (understandably) led them to a more quiescent form of evangelism than was usual for early Christians. For good reasons, then, Paul joyfully explains to the Philippian believers that the net effect of his own imprisonment has been to give their Roman brothers and sisters extraordinary courage to proclaim Christ, at the heart of the empire itself, where storm clouds are brewing.52
Thus, despite possible political repercussions “most of the brothers” spoke the word and did so fearlessly (=with great boldness). Paul often times refers to the gospel or message about Christ and his saving work as “the word.” It is translated accurately in many modern versions by the term “the message” (e.g. NIV). Verse 15 confirms that “the word” = “the gospel” or “the message about Christ.” In 1 Thess 1:6 Paul rejoices that the Thessalonians had received “the word” (=the gospel, v. 5) with much joy even though they had suffered severely. Paul also refers to “the mystery about Christ” as “the word” (Col 4:3; see also Gal 6:6).
Not everyone who was spurred on to preach Christ did so with the best of motivations. To be sure, some did preach Christ out of love, but others out of selfish ambition. The bottom line for Paul, however, was that Christ was preached and the apostle rejoiced in that.
Verses 15-18a form a unit with an inclusio (“bookends”), that is, it begins and ends on the same note: In v. 15 Paul says that “some preach Christ” and in v. 18a he speaks about the fact that “Christ is preached.” There is also a chiasm in the middle of these verses which provides the general content of the passage. The chiasm follows an A B B’ A’ pattern:
A: Some preach Christ from envy and rivalry (v. 15)
B: Some preach Christ from goodwill (v. 15)
B’: The latter do so from love… (v. 16)
A’: The former proclaim Christ from selfish ambition…(v. 17)
The emphasis in the chiasm falls on the repetition found in the A/A’ lines. The fact that the passage is “sewn together” in such a tight fashion and is joined only weakly to the preceding passage in 1:12-14 (by an “and” [kai] in the Greek text) has led some commentators to regard it as a digression or excursus not directly related to what came before. Generally speaking, those who argue this point, also argue that those who preach Christ out of “envy and rivalry” in v. 15 cannot be the preachers Paul refers to as “brothers” in v. 14 who have “confidence in the Lord.” But such a rigid separation of vv. 15-18a from 12-14 is not warranted.
First, the simplest explanation and reading of “some…are preaching” in v. 15 is that the “some” makes up part of the group referred to as “most of the brothers” in v. 14. The same is true of the “others from goodwill” in v. 15; the “others” is also part of the “most” referred to in v. 14.
Second, there is no immediate reason why Paul cannot refer to Christians who preach with wrong motives as “brothers”—improperly focused and misguided as they may be! Even though they are preaching from “envy and rivalry,” two terms often associated with works of the flesh and the fallen condition (Gal 5:21; Tit 3:3), they are nonetheless, in Paul’s estimation, preaching Christ. Besides, it is entirely possible that a Christian operate in such a sinful condition. The commands throughout the NT to avoid such behavior are meaningless if this is not the case, however unfortunate such a life might be (Rom 13:13; 1 Pet 2:1-2). Again, the NT letters presuppose that Christians do indeed sin in this way (cf. 1 Cor 1-4).
Third, Paul rejoiced that Christ was “preached” (=“to speak the word” in v. 14). This implies that the gospel preached by these contentious Christians—at least its essentials—was for the most part accurate (cf. v. 18a). It is difficult to conceive of Paul saying this if these brothers were not saved. The best answer is that they were saved and thus the problem is removed. Further, there is no indication in the text that these “brothers” in v. 14ff. are in any way connected to the opponents and false teachers Paul denounces in 1:28; 3:2, 18-19. The latter seem to be in Philippi, while the former are part of the church in Rome. The men in vv. 14ff. “advance the gospel” (cf. 1:12) while those in 1:28; 3:2, 18-19 are enemies of the cross of Christ; their end will be destruction. No connection should be seen with Paul’s opponents in 2 Corinthians either.
But who, then, are these people who “think they can cause trouble for Paul in his imprisonment”? Several things can be noted: (1) their motivation for preaching Christ is envy and rivalry; (2) this envy and rivalry is directed at Paul; (3) it is concerned with Paul’s chains; (4) it is coming from members of the Roman church. These points when taken together rule out suggestions that Paul is here dealing with factions in Corinth, or Gnostic teachers, or Judaizers per se. We are dealing here with Christians who are trying to give Paul grief in connection with his chains. Because Paul makes the point that he is “placed” (i.e., by God) in prison it seems that he is defending the consistency between the idea of prison and the gospel he preaches. Thus it may be that certain Christians in Rome were arguing that if his gospel were really the true one—and by this they specifically mean the practical applications that flow from the gospel—then he really wouldn’t be in prison. Thus they maintained a more triumphal approach to ministry and thumbed their noses at Paul. They undoubtedly took special offense to Paul’s idea that God had strategically placed him in prison there for a defense of the gospel. To their thinking nothing could be more inconsistent than for Paul to speak of a God-ordained message of liberation, on the one hand, while in prison, on the other.53 In contrast to their efforts which were directed with one eye on Paul and one eye on the gospel, Paul had both eyes on Jesus. He was, however, not opposed to a triumphal theology, but only in God’s time, when He decides to vindicate His apostle (cf. 1:20-21).
Paul says that those who preach out of goodwill—goodwill probably directed toward him (not God per se)—do so in love. The love could be love for God or love for Paul. While it is true that those who did preach Christ with the right motives undoubtedly had a love for God, the emphasis here must be seen in contrast to what others were doing to cause Paul grief. Just as some had tried to cause him trouble by their preaching, there were those who out of love for him and the work that needed to be done, jumped in and began evangelizing. It was their way of showing their solidarity with Paul and his message.
We have discussed the basics of this verse in the commentary under v. 15 above. Nonetheless, a comment is in order. It was unfortunate that some of the Christians in Rome could not get past their own agendas and self-serving motivations. But we do not have to be like that. Surely the Holy Spirit incorporated this section in his word to provide an example for us—albeit a negative one in terms of those who preached with wrong motives—so that we might watch our own motivations closely and seek to share his word with others in a spirit of unity, not “one-up-man-ship.” Paul’s selfless attitude in v. 18a is the positive model. Here is someone we can pattern our life after (cf. Phil 4:9).
For Paul, Christ was everything (1:21): when he was facing the possibility of death, the resurrected Christ was enough (1:20; 3:10-11). When he was suffering in prison, the suffering of Christ was his comfort (2:6-11). For the man who wanted the highest possible calling in life, Christ was his focus (3:10-11). For an arrogant young man who could not love as commanded and had ardently striven to attain his own righteousness, Christ was his righteousness (3:4-11). For the arrogant young Pharisee, who had his own agenda, Christ had become his all in all so that whether from false motives or pure, if Christ were preached, he could rejoice. What happened to him was of little consequence. The gospel and its progress was more important to Paul. The apostle was a man of one vision: to know Christ and to make him known. He had perspective in his circumstances and joy as a result. Finally, he never lost sight of the mission to which he been originally called (Acts 9:6, 15).
1. How do you view your circumstances? Can you rejoice in them, even when you are doing all you can, but the circumstances appear to be of little help in the cause of Christ?
2. How do you deal with people, especially Christians, who intentionally try to cause problems for you? If it hasn’t happened to you yet, trust me, it will. How do you (would you) respond to that kind of treatment?
3. When was the last time you shared Christ with someone? If you are not sure how, please consult the “ABC’s for Christian Growth: Laying the Foundation,” on this website and go to “Lesson 1: Assurance Regarding the Gospel.” You will find practical help there for sharing your faith. May God grant you the strength to share lovingly with everyone you meet. “Go … and tell them how much the Lord has done for you and how he has had mercy on you” (Mark 5:19)!
43 Cf. Gordon D. Fee, Philippians, NICNT, ed. Gordon D. Fee (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 107.
44 Cf. Gerald F. Hawthorne, Philippians, WBC, ed. Ralph P. Martin, vol. 43 (Waco, TX: Word Publishers, 1983), 33.
45 See A. S. Hunt and C. C. Edgar, Select Papyri I, Loeb Classic Library (Cambridge, MA: Cambridge Press, 1932), 303; Fee, Philippians, 106, n. 2; Hawthorne, Philippians, 33.
46 See Gustav Sthlin, TDNT, 6:703-19.
47 2 Maccabees is a book in the Apocrypha (14 or 15 Jewish books written from 250 BCE to 150 CE) and gives us a theological interpretation of certain important events among the Jews in the second century BCE.
48 See Moises Silva, Philippians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, ed. Moiss Silva (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1992), 68.
49 BAGD, 697.
50 See Peter T. O’Brien, Philippians, NIGTC (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 93.
51 So Fee, Philippians, 114.
52 Fee, Philippians, 116.
53 The context for this rivalry between Paul and certain members of the church in Rome may have been fueled by his letter to them and the concessions he wanted Jews and Gentiles to make in their relationships with one another. But this is only speculation. Cf. Fee, Philippians, 121-124.