Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually advanced the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard, and to everyone else, that my imprisonment is because I am in Christ. Philippians 1:12-13Philippians is a prison letter, so at the time of its writing, Paul is in chains. Yet, he isn't grumbling about his lowly and challenging circumstances. He is rejoicing that it is bringing about new opportunities for the Gospel. The imperial guard is coming to know who the Christ is through his chains! Paul's bondage testified to a watching world that Jesus is worth the struggle. He is worth enduring suffering.He is worth being maligned and misrepresented and wrongly imprisoned. Christ is worth it all, and so much more.
Most of the brothers have gained confidence in the Lord from my imprisonment and dare even more to speak the word fearlessly. To be sure, some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of good will. These preach out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; the others proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, thinking that they will cause me trouble in my imprisonment. Philippians 1:14-17Not only is the Gospel being made more well-known, but fellow believers are gaining confidence. They are learning to share the Gospel boldly and fearlessly. People are watching Paul, seeing his testimony and the testimony of the Gospel and then becoming emboldened to share the Gospel with others themselves. That is how magnetic Paul's circumstance has become. God was using the chains and suffering of Paul to bring about Gospel progress. But this wasn't without a cost. Aside from the imprisonment, Paul is the object of envy and rivalry. While some are righteously emboldened with a sincere heart, proclaiming what they have discovered the Truth to be, others are sharing the Gospel out of bitterness. They are sharing the Gospel to elevate themselves. Some are sharing out of good will, but others are sharing because they're competitive; they are working not for the Lord but for themselves. They are working to make their name great, not Jesus Christ's. Those who speak out of rivalry are ignorant of God's specific appointment on Paul's life; he is "appointed for the defense of the gospel." They are seeking to prop themselves up, and worst of all, they are doing all of this to afflict Paul while he is waiting under house arrest. These are some not-so-great people.
What does it matter? Only that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is proclaimed, and in this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice because I know this will lead to my salvation through your prayers and help from the Spirit of Jesus Christ. My eager expectation and hope is that I will not be ashamed about anything, but that now as always, with all courage, Christ will be highly honored in my body, whether by life or by death. Philippians 1:18-20Paul's response to this behavior is startling; it causes us to pause and truly consider what he is saying. Rather than being offended, giving-in to the affliction, or being soured in his ministry, Paul is glad. He rejoices that the Gospel is going out, that it is being advanced, and that more people are invited into the family of God for eternity. He is insistent in his gladness, and persistently pursues God in light of this difficulty. He is set on honoring God in whatever he does. This is a case of the not-so-good. They were prospering in their own ways, having impure hearts of service with wrong motives. There's nothing in this passage that says that these individuals were unsaved, but they certainly weren't very godly. Enigmatically, the Gospel was made more well-known through them. God still used it. Had I been in Paul's position, I likely would not have displayed such grace and resolve in God's power and sovereignty. I would have thrown a fit. I would have begged for an answer for why the not-so-good prosper and why I am still in chains. I certainly wouldn't have rejoiced. But this was Paul's response to being maligned, misrepresented, and afflicted: he rejoiced. We live in a world of platforms, social media statistics, and youtube channels. A whole world is literally at our fingertips through the internet. We constantly encounter information, and whether your online life happens to be filled with Christian-like influences or not, you are likely (unfortunately) to encounter the prosperity of the not-so-good. Maybe someone got a book deal that they didn't "deserve." Maybe someone else's website got more clicks than yours. Maybe someone plagiarized what you worked so hard on. The point is, we have to stop looking at other Christians as competitors to be victors over. We are a supernatural family. An eternal bloodline. We are still broken, though. We still make mistakes. Our motives can be skewed, and our hearts can be impure. We are all prone to sin. We have to hold two things is tension according to the faith that God grants us: mercy and intolerance for sin. While we do not, and should not, flounder when sin surfaces, we still must maintain mercy. While we should not let sin go unchecked, we still heap mercy upon our fellow believers, knowing that we desperately need the same type of mercy every single day. Like Paul, we recognize sin's grip on other believers. But also like Paul, we rejoice in the fulfilment of the Great Commission and in spiritual growth. So, when the not-so-great prosper, rejoice knowing that our Father in Heaven see its all, and that our pride is not worth squelching the work of the Gospel. God gives us such a gracious gift in this: He uses us in spite of our sinfulness. God uses our brokenness and the brokenness of others to cause flourishing in His Kingdom–that is something to rejoice in. Sarah Morrison is a staff writer for The Daily Grace Co.