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In the opening chapter of Philippians, Paul talks about how his chains advanced the gospel since the palace guard knew he was jailed because of Christ (Php. 1:12-13). Paul notes this made others more bold to preach. How remarkable that the early church’s response to persecution was to lift Jesus higher (Acts 4:21-31).
Paul says some preached out of envy and rivalry (Php. 1:15). Were some jealous of Paul’s chains? Did they feel second rate? Paul says they preached out of selfish ambition, hoping to add distress to his chains. Perhaps they hoped to rub in the fact they were free and preaching while Paul was jailed. Maybe some thought Paul’s imprisonment was a sign that they were more spiritual than Paul, more favored by God. The Corinthians certainly saw Paul’s sufferings as a sign of inferiority (1 Cor. 4:9-14). But who knows. The human heart is a tangle of dark threads we can never find the ends of.
Paul is confident that persecution is not a sign of disfavor. Instead, it is a sign of God’s promise, God’s salvation in the lives of those enduring it (Php. 1:28). He follows this by saying, “It has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for Him” (Php. 1:29-30). Paul caps his thought by affirming they are together in their struggles, one body in the communion of Christ’s sufferings.
There is such self-forgetfulness in Paul’s comments. He doesn’t care who is preaching and who isn’t. He isn’t troubled if he is advancing Christ by being jailed while others are free to preach. He has no regard for who is doing what, how God is using people, or even whether people seem to have pure motivations. He only has regard for Christ and that the message of Christ goes out. While some seem to minister from fallen motives, Paul doesn’t use this to discredit them but has perfect faith that God will use and bless their preaching.
This is a perspective where the efficacy of ministry rests entirely on Christ and His message, not on the quality of the minister. While God intends for us to grow in His likeness, we can’t suppose our relative Christ-likeness translates to more powerful or anointed ministry. Thinking this betrays deception about our own state. All have sinned and fall short of God’s glory. All are justified freely by grace through Christ (Rom. 3:23-24). It follows that we minister by grace, freely given, and that Christ is our only qualification. If we rest our qualifications on ourselves somehow, we forget the new covenant reality that our competence comes from God’s Spirit (2 Cor. 2:4-6).
Paul’s self-forgetfulness underlies his view of prison. Though confident he’ll be released, Paul’s focus is that Christ be made great in his body, no matter what that means: if through living, then through living (even if in prison). But if by dying, then by dying. Christ being made great within is more to Paul than living or dying.
Even living is a kind of death for Paul: “For to me, to live is Christ….” (Php. 1:21). Living is not so Paul can live his best life for God. Living isn’t about Paul reaching his potential. Living isn’t about Paul at all. Living is Christ, period. Galatians 2:20 might be a parallel passage as Paul says, “I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” To live is Christ because I no longer live, Christ lives. Paul says he’s convinced he’ll remain alive, not for himself or his own desires, but for the spiritual progress and joy of others (Php. 1:22-26).