I’ve got another “why?” question for Paul. Why was he rejoicing in his prison cell when he knew that some of his ‘buddies’ were taking advantage of his imprisonment, and were preaching the Gospel out of jealousy, ‘intending to make Paul’s chains more painful to him’ (v. 17)? This is a painful situation! Just when Paul needed support and encouragement, some believers were using the opportunity to be competitive and trying to out-preach Paul.
And speaking of Paul’s chains being painful to him, how else might he have been feeling at this point? To remind yourself of his situation, see Philippians 1:12-18. Paul’s passion is to share the Good News of Jesus, but he’s stuck in prison in Rome, wishing he could see his dear friends in Philippi again (v.8), but having to settle instead to send them word of how he’s doing.
I’m thinking he could have felt at least some of these ways: isolated, side-lined, betrayed, hurt, disappointed, disillusioned, angry, jealous, jaded, weary, left out, and eager to get out of his current circumstances! Can you think of any more possibilities? Have you ever felt any of these ways because of life’s various unexpected circumstances? I certainly have.
Through all this, Paul had to sort out his emotions, find a route through his thoughts, and reassure people who were deeply concerned about him. How does he arrive at “I want you to know, my dear brothers and sisters, that everything that has happened to me here has helped to spread the Good News” (v.12)? How could he navigate through all this and land on “so I rejoice” (v.18)?
What do you think? As you read this passage, what do you see about how he got from “everything that has happened to me” to “ so I rejoice”?
What I see is Paul reminding himself and his friends about what his main goal in life is: to share the Good News of Jesus. With this as his focus, he looks at the good that has already come from his circumstances — the Good News has been spread, the whole palace guard (a contingent of soldiers, several thousand of them according to the NIV study notes) knows he is there because of Christ, and believers have gained confidence to boldly share the Gospel. Paul uses these reminders to put the ‘downer’ side of his circumstances into perspective. Yes, some share the Gospel out of rivalry, trying to cause Paul pain, but the Good News of Jesus is being spread to more people. Paul’s passion, his deep desire, is to share the love of Jesus with as many people as possible. Here he is, stuck in prison, but Jesus is still being shared! Paul reminds himself about what really matters. Jesus being shared with more people, really matters! And it was happening. Yay!!
God was not being limited by the chains that were limiting Paul. In fact, the desire of Paul’s heart, that the Good News of Jesus would be shared, was being accomplished. “Whether their motives are false or genuine, the message about Christ is being preached either way, so I rejoice” (v.18).
This reminds me of some words of King David, a writer Paul was familiar with, in Psalm 37:4. “Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you your heart’s desires.”
Another translation puts it this way: “Love the Lord tenderly, with a soft heart, and he will fulfill your deepest desires.”