After he encourages the Philippian church with his love and thankfulness for them, he reassures them of his confidence in Christ despite his sufferings. He reassures them…and he’s the one who’s suffering! Miraculous.
Paul can see how his imprisonment has actually helped the spread of the gospel. Not only that, but it has served to encourage and embolden other ministers of the word. Because Paul did not lose heart when he was treated unjustly, other men gained courage in preaching and did not fear what the enemies of the cross would do to them as much.
Paul goes on to prove his confidence and trust in the Lord by dismissing any inclinations that he had self-interest or ambition regarding his success in preaching the gospel. He does so by teaching the Philippians that wrong motives and power hungry preachers do not faze him. As long as the true gospel is being preached, let them have the spotlight – even if it means more suffering for Paul.
Some men used Paul’s wrongful incrimination as an opportunity to boost their own ministry. Therefore, because it meant popularity for them, they sought more suffering for him. In short, these men were jealous of his success and sought to undermine him in order to take his place. Still, even this did not discourage Paul. If the gospel was spreading, Paul was rejoicing – even when it meant harm to him and his own good reputation.
Clearly, Paul’s reputation was not his life; the gospel was. As he suffered at the hands of both false friends and enemies, Paul was not moved. He did not lose hope. He was not ashamed. He was courageous. He honored Christ in his freedom and in his confinement.
Only divine grace could accomplish such confidence in a man. Wisdom, or, for some of us, experience, shows us what the alternative looks like, though. Suffering, especially when it is unjust and severe, often moves a man into despair and discouragement. It is easy to lose hope in such circumstances, especially when they are long term. When we are punished and persecuted at the hands of ungodly men, we often feel ashamed, even when we are innocent. We fear and sometimes even fall into sin and dishonor Christ amid suffering.
Either way – whether in joy or in despair – followers of Christ will suffer. Joy may prove more difficult at the start, but despair is not where we want the end of our story to lead.
God, give us the grace that Paul had in suffering. Give us eyes to see how our trials and the injustice suffered at the hands of both false friends and true enemies is serving to advance your gospel. Give us the humility to lay down when others crush us for their own agenda with the gospel. Help us to care less about our reputation and more about Christ’s honor. Give us courage and hope where we’ve only known discouragement and despair. Give us confidence where we’ve only known fear and shame. Lord, give us the fruit of joy even when we suffer most. Amen.