I had the opportunity last night to lead our small group Bible study.  We’re going through Philippians a few verses at a time.  Here is what I presented.

Philippians 1:12-14 Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.


12 Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. The Message: I want to report to you, friends, that my imprisonment here has had the opposite of its intended effect. Instead of being squelched, the Message has actually prospered.

This is not news about his imprisonment.  They have heard about that.  This is news about the impact of Paul being locked up.  And it’s good news!

These are his friends.  This letter is to the Philippians, the people who lived and worshiped in Philippi.  We know for sure that it includes Lydia, the seller of purple.  Acts 16:13-15 On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. One of those listening was a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us.

Boom – church planted.  That’s who he was writing to – Lydia and the people who were worshiping with her.  But there might have been two churches – not because of a split, but because Philippi was also where Paul and Silas were imprisoned, singing songs at midnight, when the earthquake came and opened the doors and loosened the chains. The jailer, who had been on the brink of suicide because he thought his prisoners had escaped, was baptized that night, and took Paul and Silas for a home-cooked meal.  That may have been Boom number two – another church.  We aren’t told in the Bible whether the jailer and Lydia worshiped together, or whether there were two house churches.  They both knew Paul, though, and both were concerned about him being in prison.

Sometimes I look at the Bible as if it was me in that situation.  If I was imprisoned, if I was in literal chains, I can see myself saying something like “Oh, no, don’t worry about me – I have the comfortable handcuffs on”.  And I would continue to gripe about the food, the cold, the lack of a good bed, and why aren’t you people doing something about this??  But not Paul – he has the right perspective.  He tells them the good news.  He is in chains – yes – but what he writes is not about himself.  When he says “what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel”, he means it.  I read in a commentary that Paul was single-minded.  There’s a story about a mule that was put in-between two bales of hay, just out of reach from where he was standing.  And he starved to death because he couldn’t decide which he wanted.  Paul was not that way.  He puts himself in the proper place, which is being a tool of God.  I want to tell myself that the selfishness I see in me is just a symptom of the age – we invented the word “selfie”.  But it was the same way back then – Paul and Silas had been in prison for throwing a demon out of a slave girl, and her owners being rather unhappy about losing their source of income.  It’s been “all about me” for a while.

Romans 8:28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Paul believed that – and he also wrote it.


13 As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ.

Paul is not a political prisoner.  He isn’t a thief, a murderer, or a tax cheat.  He didn’t wake up one day and say “I dunno, Silas, what do you think of trying out prison today?” He is in prison because he is following God wherever it takes him.

And it has taken him to the palace guard – the Praetorium.  This would have been in Rome, and commentaries say there were anywhere from a few thousand up to ten thousand men in this group.  One of them was chained to Paul at all times. At the time of the writing of this letter to the Christians in Philippi, Paul had been locked up for two years.  I’m making some assumptions, but if they worked in 8-hour shifts, that’s three per day.  Two years is somewhere north of seven hundred days.  If everybody did only one shift with Paul, he would have personally talked to over two thousand of the guards.  At the top end estimate of ten thousand, that’s one out of every five of the guards there.

The guards were probably bunked in some dormitory – they wouldn’t have had private rooms.  So in each room, there would have been some number of guards who had spent some quantity time with Paul – and they would have talked.  Other guards would have heard the conversations – and like it says in Galatians 5:9  “A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.” That’s Paul again, maybe thinking of this situation.

And as guards were transferred in and out of the Praetorium, the word of his imprisonment for Christ would have spread to “everyone else”, whether that meant all of Rome or all the soldiers.

Being “in chains for Christ” isn’t the same as people who crucify themselves at Easter time.  Paul is not trying to make a point, not using this as an object lesson.  He is tied up, a literal prisoner.  But he is using the circumstances that God put him in to preach the gospel.  He was in chains, but in the soldiers he had a captive audience.


14 Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.

Paul is a role model.  Not because of his chains (although I’m sure other Christians faced the same and worse), but because of how he dealt with the situation. He showed what was possible.  Circumstances do not force outcomes.  I think of a little girl in our church and her leg braces.  She’s cheerful – yes, a good mom who loves her and takes great care of her, but also a great God who loves her and takes care of her.  Paul was similar, in that the chains he was in didn’t determine his attitude or outcome.  I think he saw them as a tool, and didn’t let them hold him back.  As others saw and heard of what Paul was accomplishing, they were encouraged.

Notice the root words: “encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously”.  Courage, courage.  Paul knew his Old Testament, and knew by heart the story of Joshua taking over from Moses, how the Lord told him to “be strong and courageous”.  Later, Joshua told the same thing to all the men of Israel.  Then King David told his son Solomon the same thing.  Now, Paul is living it out and people are seeing him, and hearing the words.

“Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.” I find the word “most” to be interesting.  Instead of “all”.  To me, that implies that there were some who were not encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.  That reminds me of the parable of the sower, where for different reasons some of the growing, living seed didn’t survive.

Paul wasn’t boasting, wasn’t saying that he was so good that he could handle the chains with no problems.  What was he saying?  How does that apply to us today?  Is it easy to do?  Is it even possible?

  • Circumstances don’t matter. Christ matters.
  • Phil 1:21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.

Ephesians 6:19-20 Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.

And so we should pray for one another.  Who has praises or prayer requests?