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Turning Chains into Gains: Philippians Series #5

We know the writer of this passage is none other than the Apostle Paul. He was writing to us about some of the circumstances of his life. It helps us to try to get into his shoes for a little while and see how he feels and experiences. His circumstances at this particular time were not exactly appealing. Things were not going well for Paul; he was a prisoner in a jail cell in Rome.

A variety of misfortunes had come his way. He had been victimized by an illegal trial. He had been arrested and placed on a ship to go to Rome. Along the way, there had been a shipwreck, and he had been marooned on an island for a period of time. When he arrived in Rome he was placed in prison. There were chains around his arms and around his feet. The circumstances and the conditions there were terrible.

In addition to this, the Christian community in Rome was not overly receptive to the Apostle Paul. There were preachers who were jealous of Paul and they were rather glad that he was in prison. So, the circumstances of Paul were not only terrible, but not desirable.

I want you to notice as Paul deals with these circumstances, what he does not say and what he does say. In Philippines 1:12, we noticed the words “have turned out.” I don’t think that things just happen to the people of God. Some people think that life is just a series of happenstances, that life has no meaning, that life has no purpose. But those of us who know the Lord believe something altogether different. You and I do not believe that the circumstances of our life are happenstances, but they are providences.

I believe that God is at work in our life. I believe we have a loving heavenly Father who takes everything which comes our way, filters it through His will, and filters it through His providence so that everything has a divine intention and a divine design. Paul is saying that things have turned out for divine purpose and reason.

Then, Paul quickly dismisses all of the circumstances that have happened to him. Look at how he lays aside all of his problems. Why is Paul able to talk this way? Why is Paul able to take imprisonment, physical difficulties and all of those reversals and just say, “these circumstances have turned out?” As we move through this first chapter, we will notice that Paul frequently makes mention of the Lord Jesus and makes mention of the Gospel.

In verse 5, he says, “For your fellowship in the gospel.” In verse 12, he talks about the furtherance of the gospel. In verse 27, he says, “Striving together for the faith of the gospel.” Paul’s mind is focused on the good news of Jesus and getting the message out to the world.

All through this chapter we note that he makes mention of Jesus. Jesus Christ was absolutely number one in Paul’s life. Paul’s great desire was the good news of what Jesus did on the cross of Calvary might be known to the whole world. He says, “These circumstances have turned out for the furtherance of the gospel.”

As Christians, things don’t just happen to us. I want to talk to you about your circumstances and what you may be going through right now in your life. I want to say to you that if Jesus is number one in your life if you are totally focused on getting the good news of Jesus out, whatever the circumstances of your life may be, they are opportunities.

I. We Have Opportunities Extend The Gospel

I want you to notice the opportunities that are mentioned in these verses. First, if Jesus is number one in your life, the circumstances of your life are opportunities for the gospel to be extended. Whatever you are going through right now, God can use it as an opportunity for the gospel of Jesus Christ to be extended.

He said, these circumstances will be “greater progress of the gospel.” What an interesting statement that is. Paul is saying, “I’m in jail but it’s not over. I’m in prison now. I can’t travel as I once did, but this is not the end of it.” He’s saying that the opportunity to preach the gospel has not been ended, but rather in my circumstances, it has been extended.

Paul uses an interesting word for “greater progress” in the Greek language. The word literally means to cut before. “The greater progress of the gospel,” means to cut before. It was used to describe an advanced team of soldiers. They would go where the army was soon to follow. They would prepare the way for the coming of the army. What Paul is saying is, “My circumstances have become a pioneer advance. I have had the opportunity to be a spiritual pioneer.” He is saying, “I am blazing some trails for the gospel where the gospel has never gone before.”

Paul enjoyed going to preach the gospel where it had not been preached before. Paul was a spiritual trailblazer for Jesus. He’s saying, “I’m in jail. I am no longer able to travel. But I want you to know that my circumstances are opportunities for the gospel of Jesus Christ to be advanced.”

I believe we would be biblically wise, if we viewed every circumstance of our life the way Paul viewed himself in jail. We should look at our circumstances and ask ourselves the question, “How can the gospel get out this way?

Sometimes we are just content to do the same old thing. Too many times we are just willing to do business as usual.

He said, “The things unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel.” Then, in verse 13, he says, “So that my bonds in Christ are manifest in all the palace, and in all other places.” Notice he says, “All the palace.” The word palace is probably a reference to what was known as the Praetorian Guard.

Emperor Tiberius built a palace to house this Praetorian Guard. There were 9,000 soldiers in this guard. They were the best troops of the Roman Empire. You might call them the Special Forces. They were the special bodyguards of the Emperor. They were like the Swiss Guard in the Vatican. Paul is expressing, “My bonds in Christ have been manifested to this Praetorian guard.”

Paul is in jail. He is going to be under 24-hour surveillance. They would take members of this Praetorian Guard, and they would be assigned to guard Paul. They would bring in this guard and he would serve about four hours. They would chain this soldier to Paul for those four hours. Every four hours there would be a change which would mean that in a 24-hour period of time, there would be six soldiers who would be guarding Paul.

I don’t know about you, but I’ll tell you how it would be with me. If I was in a jail somewhere and if I was chained to a soldier, instead of writing like Paul was writing, I would probably be writing to you and telling you how tight the chain was around my arm. I would probably tell you how long that chain was or how short that chain was, and how uncomfortable it was. I would probably tell you about the foul language of the soldiers.

But notice what Paul says. He says, “I want you to know that the things unto me have become an opportunity for the gospel to get some places where it never got before.” There he is and there is a soldier on the end of that chain. Paul sees that soldier as an opportunity to extend the gospel and as an opportunity to tell someone else about the Lord Jesus Christ.

I can imagine the talk that was going on over in the Praetorian Guard. They were saying, “What did you do yesterday?” They said, “I spent four hours chained to a guy named Paul over in the jail.” “Who is Paul?” They would say, “He is a guy from Israel.” They ask, “What’s he doing over here?” They say, “They sent him over here to go to trial because he believes in somebody named Jesus.” They ask, “Who is Jesus?” They say, “He says that Jesus is a Jew who died on a cross and that when He died on the cross, He paid the price for the sins of the whole world.” They say, “You don’t mean it. That’s what the guy said?” They say, “Yes.” “Man, I’m going tomorrow. I’ll see what he has to say.”

n and out, they are coming, and Paul is having an opportunity to tell them about Jesus. Paul is what you might call a “chain preacher.” He is sharing Christ and winning people to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. He says, “My chains are manifest in the Praetorian guard and in all places.” Let me tell you how far Paul’s influence went. In Philippians 4:22, we read, “All the saints salute you chiefly that they are of Caesar’s household.”

How long do you think it would have taken Paul to get an audience with Caesar? Yet, because of his circumstances being chained to soldiers and winning those soldiers to Christ, they are witnessing to others, all the way into the palace of Caesar. Paul stated that there are saints in Caesar’s Palace. What an opportunity for the gospel to be extended!

There are times in life that we may believe or feel that we are chained to a circumstance that we cannot get away from. There seems to be no way out. Maybe you feel like you are chained to a job and you can’t get out of it. Maybe you feel like you are chained to a health problem and there seems to be no way of getting out of it.

Have you ever thought that maybe God can use you in those circumstances as an opportunity to get the gospel of Jesus Christ to places where it has never been? Could it be that maybe that period of time in the hospital is an opportunity for you to tell some nurse or some intern or some medical doctor about your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ? Just maybe you will be able to win them to the Lord Jesus Christ. Things don’t just happen to Christians. If Jesus is first in your life, there are opportunities for the gospel to be extended.

II. We Have Opportunities To Encourage Others

In Philippians 1:14-18, Paul talks about the fact that his arrival in Rome had emboldened other people to be a witness for the Lord. Paul says that when he got there, “Many of the brethren are bold because of my bonds to speak the word without fear.” When Paul got there and they saw him witnessing under adverse circumstances, in jail and facing death, it encouraged some of the more hesitant, timid, fearful believers in the church in Rome.

Did you know that courage begets courage? Enthusiasm begets enthusiasm. Did you know that if you are a bold witness for the Lord, you may encourage somebody else to be a bold witness for Jesus Christ? We need boldness in our witness for Jesus Christ. Let your boldness be an encouragement to other believers to tell someone about the Lord Jesus Christ. When one Christian gets on fire and starts witnessing for the Lord, it sets the fire in the heart of someone else.

He says, “My witnessing has caused other people to be a witness.” Then, he says something here that is interesting. He says, “Some are doing it for wrong motives. Some are witnessing out of a spirit of envy and strife.” In Philippians 1:16 we read, “Supposing to add affliction to my bonds.” Paul is saying, “They are trying to make my bonds gall me.”

Then, he says that some are being witnesses out of good will. In Philippians 1:17, he says that they are doing it out of love. Sometimes when we read about the New Testament churches, we get the idea that they were perfect and that they never had any problems. If you think the early church was perfect, you are thinking about the church that never was.

When you read the letters of the New Testament to the churches you will discover that every problem we have in churches today is found in some form in the early church. The church is just made up of people. The church is made up of saved sinners. None of us is perfect.

Here were some people who were preaching, but they were doing it with impure motives. They were not sincere. They were glad Paul was in jail. Paul came to Rome, and he got in the spotlight, and they weren’t getting the attention they were used to getting. Sometimes it is hard for some singers to get blessed when somebody else is singing a little bit better. It’s hard for some preachers to get blessed when some preacher is preaching a little bit better.

There were some who were preaching and witnessing for Jesus out of pure motives and others with impure motives. We need to remember that it is possible to serve the Lord with impure motives. We should be very careful about our motives.

What was Paul going to do? He could have just filled the ears of those soldiers with how sorry and low down these other Christians were. If he had, the angels would have wept and a lost world would have sneered. How do you respond when people respond with jealousy and envy to you?

George Whitfield and John Wesley were contemporaries. Whitfield was a little stronger in the doctrines of grace, election, and predestination. Wesley was a little stronger in the area of human responsibility and free will. They had some doctrinal disagreements. Someone knowing about their disagreement said one time to Mr. Whitfield, “Mr. Whitfield, do you expect to see John Wesley in heaven?” Mr. Whitfield said, “I do not.” Then, he said, “I expect Mr. Wesley to be so close to the throne and me so far from the throne that I won’t be able to see him at all.” This is the kind of response God wants us to have.

In Philippians 1:18 Paul responds, “Christ is preached; and in that I do rejoice.” It doesn’t matter whether they do it quite like we do. It doesn’t matter who gets the attention. The bottom line of everything is that Jesus Christ is preached, that people come to know our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Do you rejoice when God blesses the ministry of others? Instead of us being bothered by God blessing someone’s ministry, we should be so filled with amazement as to why God blesses our ministries. The closer we get to Jesus, the more of our inconsistencies and failures we will see.

The closer we get to Jesus, who is the light, the more we will see our own failures and our own inconsistencies. When you do that, you are not going to have a lot of time to sit around passing judgment on the behavior and activities of others. You will be amazed that God has ever chosen to use you the way He has chosen to use you.

III. We Have Opportunities For Christ to Be Exalted

As Christians, things do not just happen to us. When Jesus is first in your life, your circumstances are opportunities for the Lord Jesus Christ to be exalted. Paul says, says “For I know that this shall turn to my salvation . . .” (Philippians 1:19). He’s not talking about his soul salvation. He’s talking about salvaging good out of a bad circumstance. He’s talking about God rescuing what seems to be an impossible situation. He goes on to say, “For I know that this shall turn to my salvation through your prayer, and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ.”

Paul continues with, “According to my earnest expectation . . .(Philippians 1:20a).” The word earnest is an interesting word. It’s really made up of three words. It means to look away or to turn your head away.

Why is Paul able to deal with these circumstances so victoriously? He’s saying that because my eyes are turned away from my circumstances and my eyes are looking somewhere else. He’s saying, “My circumstances are just passing experiences. I’ve got my eyes on something better. My earnest expectation and hope is that in everything, always now Christ shall be magnified in my body.”

When we arrive at the place in our faith, we can say, “I don’t care what comes in my life, I want Jesus to get the honor and the glory. I want Jesus to be exalted in my life through this circumstance,” then we are on victory ground!

There are two ways to magnify something. You can either magnify something with a microscope or a telescope. A microscope takes something small and makes it large. A telescope takes something very distant and brings it near. Paul says that what we want is for Jesus to be magnified in our body. Our body is to be a lens, our body is to be like a microscope to take that which is small and make it big.

We are not suggesting that Jesus is small. However, He is small in the lives of so many people today. Paul was saying, “I want my life, my body, to be like a microscope, to take Jesus, who seems to be so unimportant to this world and to make Him large in my life so others can see Jesus in me.

Also, he says, “I want my life to be like a telescope to take that which is far and bring it near.” I am not implying that Jesus is distant. Jesus is right here with every one of us. Yet, to a lot of people, He is distant. We are to make Jesus who is distant to so many people, and by the lens of our life magnify so that He becomes very near. When people get around you, do they feel like they are in the presence of Jesus? Do they feel like Jesus is near to them?

“So that Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life or by death.” By life and by death or the two ultimate circumstances. We are either living or you are dying. This great Apostle was saying whichever of the ultimate circumstances, whether I’m living I want Jesus to be exalted, or whether I’m dying I want Jesus to be exalted. May we live so that whatever the circumstances of life we find ourselves in, people will see Jesus in us. When we come to the time of death, may we be such a testimony for the Lord that even our dying will be a witness for the Lord. You and I are here to bring honor to Jesus. Whatever our circumstances are, they are opportunities for Jesus to be exalted.