Paul’s Imprisonment – Philippians 1:12–30

Read the Passage: Philippians 1:12-30

Listen to The Redeemed Mind Podcast: Philippians 1:12-30

Confinement (1:12–18)

While it may have seemed that Paul’s imprisonment would hinder his ministry, it actually served to further the spread of the gospel. Paul writes that it had become clear to the palace guard, as well as to others in Rome, that his confinement was because of his message and ministry. This implies that Paul was able to freely share the gospel with both his guards and his visitors in Rome (cf. Acts 28:16, 30–31). Consequently, Paul’s preaching to the lost resulted in the salvation of some, while his preaching to Roman believers resulted in their encouragement. Recall that earlier Jesus had told Paul he must preach in Rome (cf. Acts 20:24; 23:11), a desire that Paul himself had mentioned to the church (cf. Acts 19:21; Rom. 1:15). Paul’s testimony, then, was that despite his chains, he was able to continue his ministry in Rome, in fulfillment of Jesus’ command and call upon his life.

When Paul arrived in Rome around AD 60, it is possible that there had been a church there for more than 25 years. Recall that there were Romans present on the day of Pentecost in AD 30 (cf. Acts 2:10) and Paul himself had written to the Roman church, some five years before his arrival, in the epistle of Romans. Providentially, then, Paul was not the only one in Rome who preached Christ. Apparently, however, some of the Roman Christians leaders were jealous of Paul’s gifts and ministry. Indeed, they likely viewed Paul’s presence in Rome as a threat or as type of spiritual encroachment. This jealousy was so great that some openly preached Christ in order to increase Paul’s affliction. Like Jesus, however, Paul’s attitude was, “For the one who is not against us is for us” (Mark 9:40; cf. Matt. 12:30). Yet, despite these personal trials, Paul rejoiced in the fact that the gospel was preached.

Confidence (1:19–26)

It is evident that Paul’s joy was not tied to his circumstances, but to Christ. In regard to his imprisonment, Paul was fairly certain that he’d be delivered. Paul took comfort in the believers’ prayers for him, as well as in the indwelling Holy Spirit as he wrote, “For I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayer and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ . . . . So now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death” (Phil. 1:19–20). Note, though, that the deliverance that Paul had in mind here was not necessarily to be released from incarceration. Rather, Paul knew that his deliverance might come by being freed from his physical body via death. This was a real possibility, for Paul awaited trial before Caesar, and a “not-guilty” verdict was far from assured. In retrospect, we know that Paul was indeed freed from his first Roman imprisonment.

Clearly, the many trials that Paul faced, including his many physical challenges (cf. 2 Cor. 11:22–29), resulted in him looking forward to receiving a glorified material body, as well as the temporal rest that death brings. Nevertheless, Paul realized that his present and future earthy ministry would benefit the Philippian church. Thus, in a sense, Paul was conflicted between the rest and the reward of death, and the benefit and the fruit of life. In Phil. 1:21 Paul wrote, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” In so writing, Paul was recognizing that he was of two minds, but also that he was in a win-win situation. While Paul notes he would have a hard time choosing between life and death (cf. Phil. 1:22), he also knew that the choice was not his to make. Moreover, he hoped and anticipated that he would soon be released from prison, which meant that his gospel ministry would continue.

Conduct (1:27–30)

In Phil. 1:27 Paul called for integrity, as he exhorted the church to right conduct, whether he was able to see them or not. Indeed, one of the church’s greatest witnesses to the watching world, and ways in which the gospel is validated, is through unity and love (cf. John 13:35; 17:20–21). Somewhat ironically, just as right conduct validates the truth and the hope of the gospel, it also confirms the condemnation of those who reject the gospel. In Phil. 1:28 Paul reminds his readers of this truth—not to promote arrogance, but to encourage the church, to position the lost for salvation, and to bring glory to God (cf. 1 Pet. 2:11–12). In Phil. 1:29–30 Paul reminds the church that suffering is a regular and expected part of following Jesus Christ. Just as these believers had seen Paul and Silas imprisoned for the sharing the gospel in Philippi (cf. Acts 16:19–40), so too they could expect the same.

Application Questions:

  1. Why do believers usually look upon circumstances such as trails and suffering as negative events?
  2. Have you ever been jealous over another believer’s place in the church, spiritual gifts, or success in ministry?
  3. If it is not always God’s will that Christians be delivered from our physical trials, how do we know how we ought to pray?
  4. Given the unnatural nature of death (cf. 1 Cor. 15:26; 2 Cor. 5:2–4), is it okay to want to “depart and to be with Christ” (Phil. 1:23)?
  5. In what areas of your life do you find it most difficult to manifest true Christian conduct?