Philippians 1:12-18a

After his prayer, Paul gives an update on his circumstances. His audience already knew of his imprisonment and even sent to minister to him.[1] But he now wanted them to know something unexpected about his incarceration: "that my circumstances have turned out for the greater[2] progress of the gospel" (1:12). How did Paul's jail time lead to an advancement of the gospel? Paul explains in the remainder of this passage.

Progress (13-14): With the conjunction "so that" in verse 13, Paul points out two ways the gospel progressed through his imprisonment (1:13-14).[3] First, it became "well known throughout the whole praetorian guard[4] and to everyone else." These residents of Rome came to know about Jesus Christ through the story of Paul's imprisonment.[5] This was progress—made possible by his jail time! The second way the gospel advanced was through the emboldening of the brethren. These men had "far more courage" to speak the Word[6] "without fear" (1:14). And this came about through his bondage.[7] If he were not imprisoned, these men would have never come out of the woodwork!

Two Kinds of Brothers (15-17): But this isn't to say that all the brothers were on Paul's side. Some of them were, for sure. They mustered up courage to show solidarity with the apostle in his "defense of the gospel" (1:16). They did this "out of love" (1:16) and "from good will" (1:15).[8] But, there were others. This second group maliciously devised a scheme against Paul. They were motivated by "envy and strife," and out of their jealousy and rivalry,[9] they tried to make Paul suffer more in prison![10] Moreover, they were at the same time trying to gain something for themselves. Their vicious and antagonistic plot was motivated by "selfish ambition" (1:17). They wanted to punish Paul, on the one hand, and on the other hand, promote themselves. This is, of course, sin—the very behavior Paul condemns[11] in just the next chapter! There should never be selfish ambition or strife among God's people!

Joy (18a): What's worse? They tried to achieve their evil desires through the preaching of Christ. Now, this is reprehensible! Why would anyone use the gospel for such evil? But, this is not what Paul dwells on.[12] Instead, he rejoices in the fact that Christ is preached.[13] Even if it were with evil intent, to Paul, proclamation of Christ is still cause for joy.[14] If more people are hearing about Christ, that's a net gain! Even though those brothers were anti-Paul, they were doing something pro-gospel. Paul gladly takes it on the chin for the gospel. Preaching of Christ is what he wants even if it means added suffering.

[1] "Epaphroditus… who is also your messenger and minister to my need" (2:25). "I am amply supplied, having received from Epaphroditus what you have sent" (4:18). They were also in prayer for him (1:19).

[2] Avoid emphasizing "greater" as the word here is more accurately "rather" or "actually" (NET, NKJV). Paul is highlighting progress contrary to the setback that was expected. This was an unexpected turn of events!

[3] The "so that" of verse 13 introduces the first effect in verse 13 and the second in verse 14.

[4] Many interpret this as "the imperial guard" (ESV, NET) since Caesar had a praetorian guard in Rome. It was, then, probably through Paul's testimony that some in the imperial household came to Christ, since a Christian greeting is sent from them: "All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar's household" (4:22).

[5] Paul was imprisoned (and charged!) for the resurrection, esp., Christ's suffering, death and resurrection. Cf. Acts 23:6 (" I am on trial for the hope and resurrection of the dead"), 24:21 ("For the resurrection of the dead I am on trial") and 26:22-23 ("the Christ was to suffer … [His] resurrection from the dead").

[6] Manuscripts better support "the Word" (ESV, NET and NKJV) than "the Word of God."

[7] "bonds [des-mos δεσμός]" is the word for NASB's "imprisonment" in this book (1:7, 13, 14, 17). Luke also describes the "chain" that bound him. "I am wearing this chain for the sake of the hope of Israel" (Acts 28:20).

[8] Many of these may have been men he knew by name. Paul mentions a slew of them in Romans 16, altogether 18 men. 2 are mentioned in this book (1:1 and 2:25, respectively) and 7 in Colossians 4:7-14. That's 27 men in total! One would only imagine that these men belonged to the loving brethren, not the envious.

[9] ESV and NET render "strife" as "rivalry."

[10] This is literally, "raise affliction to my bonds." NKJV renders this phrase: "add affliction."

[11] "Do nothing from selfishness [same word for "selfish ambition" in 1:17] or empty conceit" (2:3).

[12] This does not mean he tolerated their sin (cf. 3:18; 2 Cor. 11:29), but his joy was in making Christ known.

[13] "whether in pretense or truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice" (1:18a).

[14] The "gospel" is also described as "preaching Christ" (1:15) and "proclaim[ing] Christ" (1:17) in this section.