Study 2: Joy in the imperfect present
Sermon Date: January 8, 2017
Reading: Philippians 1: 12-20
Paul has been imprisoned because of his stand for Christ and desire to plead his innocence before the Emperor following false charges that have been levelled against him by enemies of Christianity (see Acts 16: 16-38). His journey to Rome has been difficult and he is now in chains waiting for his turn in the slow moving judicial system. As a prisoner, Paul came into contact with a large number of soldiers who took turns to individually guard him during his confinement. Paul took this opportunity to share his faith.
What do you think about ambition? Is ambition a good thing? How can ambition influence the way in which we live positively and negatively?
What are you ambitious about?
The Oxford English Dictionary defines ‘ambitious’ as ‘strongly desirous for something, to be or to do something’.
Following his conversation on the road to Damascus, Paul had a passionate ambition to live for Christ, share the gospel and establish churches. He was passionate that everyone be presented with the opportunity to encounter Christ and then enjoy the riches of new life in Christ. This passion led to his imprisonment where he continued to share the gospel.
Reading verses 12-13, why does Paul consider his imprisonment in Rome to be a good thing?
In what ways has the gospel been “advanced” through his imprisonment? (Think through verses 13 and 14)
In verses 15-17 Paul talks about various motives for preaching Christ. In your opinion, why do you think there were different groups preaching Christ? What was Paul’s response to the fact that some Christians through their preaching were trying to add to his difficulties?
When and how can the ambition to preach Christ become a selfish ambition?
In verses 19-20, Paul admits that that the personal opposition he encountered and his imprisonment could have tempted him to abandon the gospel and his resolute service for Christ. What do you think helped to sustain and encourage Paul to passionately live for Christ?
Take a few minutes to reflect and prayerfully consider the challenges that you may have encountered to your faith and/or continue to experience:
How have these challenges affected your faith?
What has helped you to endure and overcome these challenges?
Looking back, can you see God’s hands at work? How has your faith been deepened through these experiences?
Consider sharing your responses to these questions to help and encourage each other.
Lovingly listen, discuss and agree how you may commit to help each other to live for Christ and show his love in the months ahead.
Conclude by praying together.
Helpful Hints for discussion questions:
1&2 In verses 12-14, Paul explains how his imprisonment in Rome has only served to aid the gospel:
the issue has now become clear (verse 13): Presumably the tabloid press in Rome would have had a field day with headlines like ‘hooligan vicar put away for life’ (cf: Acts 16:19-21 for an example of the kind of charges Paul faced). Paul was now a captive but that meant that his guards became his captive audience - chained to him for 8 hours a day gave time for Paul to make it clear that he had been sent to Rome not for riot, but because he preached Christ (cf: Acts 28:16-31, especially verse 20). He could now share Christ with the soldiers who in turn would discuss and share Christ with others.
Christians have become bold (verse 14): We might expect that Paul’s imprisonment would mean that all the other Christians in Rome would want to adopt a low profile. But the opposite happened. Paul’s witness and imprisonment encouraged many Christians to take the initiative and now share Christianity publicly throughout the capital of the Roman Empire.
3 Paul acknowledges that different groups have arisen to preach Christ but with different motives to his. It would appear that some people have taken advantage of his situation to try to stir up trouble for Paul (verse 17).
We can only speculate as to why. Perhaps there was already a church in Rome before Paul arrived, possibly started by some Acts 2 converts? What would the hardworking leaders of that embryonic church have felt when Paul, “the Apostle”, arrived and all the attention was given to him? It’s no surprise that envy and rivalry appears to have arisen.
And then when Paul’s locked up in prison, perhaps some found it difficult to resist the line ‘well, that’s just desserts … it shows what God thinks of him interfering in our work’. And talk like this, from fellow Christian leaders, would certainly increase anyone’s suffering (verse 17 RSV). But this is all speculation. Nevertheless, other Christians were creating further difficulties for Paul.
Paul remains positive despite this rivalry because the gospel is being advanced. This is his concern: that Christ is preached. Paul knows that the gospel has its objectivity and validity apart from those who proclaim it - the message is more than how it is shared and by whom.
It must be that these people were truly preaching Christ (otherwise, we’d be in a Galatians 1:8-9 situation, presumably?). But given that they appear to be true to the gospel, it is remarkable that Paul puts his reputation to one side:. He’s much more concerned about the gospel advancing than about enhancing his own reputation.
Paul’s conversion (Acts 9) and experience of God at work through the Holy Spirit in his ministry and life to date
The love and support (e.g. financial gift 1:5; 4:10-19) and prayers (1:18) of the church in Philippi
The empowering presence of the Holy Spirit in Paul (verse 19b)