Philippians 1.12-18a– Overcoming Obstacles in Ministry


I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the Gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.

Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of rivalry, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.

Philippians 1.12-18a (ESV)

Paul is describing his time of imprisonment as a blessing for the advancement of the Gospel. Some background would be appropriate here concerning the circumstances in which Paul finds himself as he is writing this letter. Most scholars believe that Paul was writing this letter from Rome around the year 62. He was arrested in Jerusalem following his third missionary journey around 57, and from there spent the next several years in Roman custody while he went through various trials. Paul eventually appealed to Caesar, and was transported to Rome for a trial before Nero.

This was not exactly the plan Paul had for his life and ministry. Reading through Acts and his other epistles, you can see that he had great plans for more missionary journeys, namely a trip to Spain which he discusses in his letter to the Romans. Paul had spent the last 12 years of his life traveling throughout Asia and Greece, planting churches and discipling Gentiles. His intention was to continue this ministry. But instead, Paul finds himself arrested in Jerusalem and then imprisoned in Caesarea for two years before being transferred to Rome for another two years of house arrest. It is during his time of imprisonment in Rome that this letter is written.

Paul shows us how to respond when things in life do not go our way. This divine change of plans in Paul’s life led me to think about how I respond when my carefully developed plans go by the wayside. If you had met Paul just after his conversion, I’m certain that the plans he had for his life did not include an extended time in prison and a group of people competing with him for power in ministry. In the same way, if you had asked me ten or twelve years ago what I thought I would be doing in ministry today, I would not have said that I would still be single and in school preparing to “begin” ministry.

Each of us has some experience in which life has not worked out the way we planned it. Often, my first reaction is to complain. I don’t understand the reasons, I think my plan was perfectly acceptable, and if God really loved me, he would agree with me. Changes of plan tend to freeze us in our tracks. Instead of seeing setbacks and frustrations as God’s unique opportunity to share the Gospel in an unplanned place, we see them as stumbling blocks on the road to our own happiness.

Paul responded to this event in his life in the exact opposite manner. Instead of shutting down, instead of questioning his calling from God in light of his circumstances, Paul continued to answer his call as a missionary regardless of his location. This is an important thing for us to remember. Our calling to serve God and share the Gospel is not dependent upon our circumstances, situation or location. Sometimes the calling we have on our lives does not materialize in the manner we envision. When I answered a call to full time ministry in January of 1997, I was convinced of the fact that I would be a missionary in a foreign country using sports as my platform for working with teens. While the call to serve God with my life has not changed in the last twelve years, the specifics of how that calling has taken shape is vastly different from what I originally thought God was going to do with my life.

Planning is not the problem. Having a goal to work toward is a good thing! Our plans become bad, though, when they become our focus instead of the Gospel being our focus. It is good to have plans and to be intentional in the way we live our lives. But when we become upset when those plans are changed, we need to check our hearts and make sure that those plans have not become idols in our lives.

What are the plans you have for your life? Do they consist only of family or career or ministry? Or do your plans focus on living out the Gospel and sharing the Gospel with others regardless of your circumstances? Paul identified himself as a servant of God and messenger of the Gospel, and that identity can never be taken from us, even when our circumstances change. It was ok with Paul that his traveling had been cut short by his arrest. Instead of going to the Gentiles, God was allowing the Gentiles to come to him! Every four hours, four new guards were posted around Paul, and he then had four hours to talk with them about Christ. Through his faithful sharing of the Gospel, Paul says that the Gospel had been shared with the entire imperial guard. Paul wanted to go to Rome, and God provided a way for him to get there—and Roman government paid for the journey! The church was in a time of persecution. Many believers were losing jobs and homes and their lives. When Paul was arrested in Jerusalem, he was there delivering an offering he had collected from Gentile churches to help the persecuted believers in Jerusalem. There was a shortage of funds to pay for missionary work—at least there was a shortage from man’s point of view. An economic crisis followed by the arrest of a prominent leader would seem to be two heavy blows to the work of the early church. But Paul declares that the exact opposite is the case. The two hardships he has faced—imprisonment and opposition from fellow ministers—have actually served to further the spread of the Gospel. And for Paul, that is more important that any plan he may have had for ministry.

Joseph had a word concerning this very idea when he spoke to his brothers in Egypt in Genesis 50. 19-20: “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to being it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” Our plans can be destroyed. Jobs are lost. Health is compromised. Fellow believers sin against us and cause frustration and hurt. But if we keep our focus on Christ and His work, we will find ways to fulfill God’s will for our lives regardless of the setbacks we face.

So, how will you view frustrations and setbacks? How will you react to persecution, bad news, or the effects on your life of the sins of others? Will you have an identity crisis and lose faith, or will you remember that your calling is higher than your job or location or situation? Will you see the good opportunity God has placed in your life through the evil of a fallen world or will you focus on the negative circumstance and allow it to rule over you and keep you in bondage? Paul was literally in bondage, chained to two men 24 hours a day. But the closing verses of Acts tell us that during this time, Paul was free because he was “proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance” (Acts 28. 31). Our freedom is found in Christ and his Gospel, and no circumstance in this world can take that away from us.

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Philippians 1.11


And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. Philippians 1:9-11 (ESV)

Paul tells us in verse 11 what we are to do in order to become that pure and blameless bride of Christ that he describes in verse 10. In order to have abounding love, increasing knowledge and discernment, so that we may approve what is excellent, we must be filled with the fruit of righteousness. I wanted to know what this fruit of righteousness is, so I did a search of the New Testament for the word “fruit” in an English concordance. The word is used 43 times in the New Testament, occasionally talking about literal fruit, but most often used as a metaphor for the works of the spirit. “Fruit of righteousness” or “fruit of the Spirit” are both terms used to describe the external product of the internal growth of our spiritual life. We spoke about love being an action; fruit is the product of that action.

Jesus spoke extensively about fruit in His teaching in Matthew. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus warned his listeners to be aware of those who claim to be believers but who produce bad fruit. He tells us that a good tree will produce good fruit and a bad tree will produce bad fruit. But what is the good fruit Jesus is talking about? Paul gives a concise answer to that in Galatians 5:13-26.

13 You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. 14 The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. 16 So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. 17 For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law. 19 The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

What fruit am I producing in my life? Do I spend my time “biting and devouring” my fellow believers? If so, I need to heed Paul’s warning that we will destroy one another. I also need to remember that my enemy is not flesh and blood—we as believers are on the same side of the battle against the evil one! Paul encourages us to keep in step with the Spirit by living out the truth that our sinful nature has ALREADY been crucified! We do not fight against our sinful FOR victory; we battle our sinful nature FROM victory! Producing the fruit of righteousness in our lives is possible for every believer who chooses to daily live in the reality of our flesh being crucified and our spirit being renewed and controlled by the Holy Spirit. As I seek to allow the Lord to work out this prayer in my own life, I pray that I will keep this comparison list close to the front of my mind. Is my life producing discord, jealousy, selfish ambition, idolatry? Or am I producing love, joy, peace, patience and the rest? Sometimes we see ourselves better than we really are. If asked, how would those closest to me describe the fruit in my life?

The fruit we produce is of utmost importance for our walk with the Lord and our representation of Him and His kingdom as we journey through this life as His ambassadors. How will people know that we are His ambassadors? Jesus said in the Gospel of John that they will know us by our love for one another. It is our unity as a body of Christ that sets us apart from the world! They will not know us by our building programs or by our humanitarian aid. They will know us by our unified diversity and love for one another. How are you showing love for your brothers and sisters in Christ that causes you to stand out in the world?

Philippians 1.9-10


And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. Philippians 1:9-10 (ESV)

Paul has said much in these opening paragraphs of his letter to the church in Philippi concerning prayer. He wants them to know that prayer, communication with the Father, is of vital importance to him, and it should be to them as well. In this short prayer, Paul gives us several things he prays for his readers and several reasons why he prays the way he does.

  1. Paul prays that their love may abound more and more.

We have already discussed love in this study, but I would encourage you to go back and see what Paul has to say about love. Read 1 Corinthians 13. This is a very familiar passage, one that we often gloss over and consider as something to be read at weddings. But really stop over each phrase and consider how your “love life” is concerning each of these areas.

Danny Akin preached on this passage at the 20/20 Conference this past weekend at school, and he gave us a very challenging and convicting exercise to do with the chapter. In verses 4-8, every time you see the word love, replace it with the name Jesus. It works perfectly, right? Jesus is the only person who has ever loved perfectly. Now, replace the word love with your own name. I know I stumbled over more than one of them. How about you? We know the standard of how we are to treat one another, but we also know that it is a standard we will not be able to meet perfectly. That can be frustrating and cause us to want to give up altogether. But don’t give up quite yet! Now, replace the word love with the phrase “Jesus in me.” Works much better! See, we were never meant to fulfill the mandates of Scripture on our own. In fact, it’s an impossible task. We can only love, serve, and obey with the help of Jesus through the Holy Spirit in our lives. There are people in our lives who are difficult to love, but Jesus loves them. And He will love them through us if we allow Him to do so.

But how do we allow Him to do that? Look at the end of verse 9: “with all knowledge and discernment.” In order to be able to love, we have to know how Jesus loved others. The exercise above is a good way to begin growing in the knowledge of the Lord. Continuing in Bible studies is another way. We are to be imitators of Christ. Think for a moment about entertainers who make a living impersonating famous people. How did they become good at their impersonation? By studying for hours and hours the one that they are going to impersonate! No one wakes up one day and decides to impersonate someone they’ve never seen or heard of before. If they do, they probably won’t do a very good job. In order to be like someone, you have to study them, practice their mannerisms, their vocal inflections, their clothing.

It is the same way with Christ! If we are to be like Him, we must get to know Him. Paul prays that their love may abound, but he knows this will not happen through a passive working of spiritual magic. Their love will abound when they choose to grow in knowledge and discernment. Love is an action verb– not a warm and fuzzy feeling that may come and go depending on our mood and the behavior of others– and growing in love requires action as well.

  1. Paul prays that they may approve what is excellent.

If you spend any time around small children, you know that there is no need to teach them to do wrong things. Selfishness is not learned; it just comes naturally. You don’t have to force your children to practice temper tantrums when they don’t get their way. Lying is not an acquired skill. If you ever need proof of the idea that we are all born with a fallen, sinful nature, spend a Sunday in the nursery with 18-24 month old toddlers! There you will find a room full of “me monkeys”—each out for his or her own best interest, and willing to bite, scratch, kick and scream to get it.

The sad thing is that many adults are still like this because we have failed to grow in love and learn to approve what is excellent. What are the excellent things that we should approve of? How do we begin to develop those things in our own lives?

  1. Paul prays that they may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ

This is a thought that we do not consider often, but it should be the focus of our lives. When we become saved, it is not for the express purpose of going to heaven. Were that the case, I believe God would just take us to heaven immediately upon our conversion. So there is a purpose to our being here on this planet beyond just living an arbitrary life until we die or He returns for His church. What are we supposed to be doing? Paul gives us nothing short of the meaning of life in this one phrase. We are here to prepare ourselves for the wedding supper of the Lamb!

The day of Christ is the day that He returns to this earth to rule and reign as Lord of all creation. Paul is talking about end times here. What we do each and every day determines how well prepared we are for eternity. I have had several friends get married the last few years. To date, not a single one of them has received a ring from their boyfriends and thought, “Well now that’s taken care of! I can really let myself go now!” No, usually when a woman gets engaged, it’s a mad rush countdown of getting really in shape so that they can be presented to their groom looking as good as possible on their wedding day. Think of our salvation as a promise of marriage and the time we spend on this planet as our engagement. We are referred to as the bride of Christ; how are you preparing yourself to be the bride?

Read Revelation 19:6-10. It is John’s description of the marriage supper of the Lamb. The multitude of people in heaven is singing a song at the wedding reception. Their song tells us about the appearance of the bride. “’…for his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted to her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure’—for the linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.”

Paul prays that we will be pure and blameless on the day of Christ. John declares that he sees the bride prepared for meeting her bridegroom. And the bride in John’s vision is dressed in her righteous deeds. Now, here’s the question: when it comes time for us to be presented to our groom, how will you be dressed? Are you spending your days preparing yourself to be the beautiful bride of Christ? Or do you take it for granted that you’ve been chosen and are laying back and waiting for that day? This is a painfully hard way to look at yourself, but it is a gut check for our Christian lives.

True Repentance


For godly sorrow produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, but worldly sorrow produces death. –2 Corinthians 7.10

Tonight my pastor preached a very practical yet profoundly convicting sermon from 2 Corinthians 7.8-10. As he preached, I saw in my mind so many instances in my own life in which I have struggled with sin and the ideas of confession, sorrow, and repentance. True repentance is nearly unheard of in our society today. Even Christians, who claim to believe in the depravity of man’s soul, generally go about life believing they are good people. We are quick to admit our general state of sinfulness, but very slow to confess and repent of particular sins.

Dr. Bowyer shared with us the writing of Thomas Watson, who wrote about Six Ingredients of Repentance:

1. Sight of Sin—First of all, we must be aware of our sin. In the story of the prodigal son in Luke 15, Jesus said that the son, while sitting in the pig pen “came to his senses.” He became aware of the sin in his life and where it had brought him. Before we can do anything about the sins in our lives, we must be aware of what they specifically are.

2. Sorrow for Sin—“Sorrow for sin makes Christ precious to us.” We must be saddened by the sin in our lives. It is for that sin that Christ chose to give up heaven to come to earth to die our death in our place. Recognizing the cost He paid to make forgiveness possible should make our Savior precious to us, and should make our sin sicken us.

3. Confession of Sin—We must admit that the wrong we do is sin. Too often we talk about misjudgments, poor decisions, and regrettable mistakes. We talk even more about the sins we are so quick to see that others commit against us. What we discuss very little is the idea that we sin. We sin against one another and we sin against a holy and loving God. Admitting we are wrong is hard for people who are so full of self-love and pride, but it is a necessary step of true repentance. After all, how can you really be sorry if there is nothing specific for which you are sorry?

4. Shame for Sin—When we realize our sin, we are generally ashamed, but often for the wrong reason. Our pride is shamed because we don’t want anyone to find out about the wrong we have committed because we fear what they may think of us. True shame over sin should be shame in the sight of God. We should be ashamed that we have failed our Father, not that people may find out.This shame should lead us to rid ourselves of the sin, not to try to hide it.

5. Hatred for Sin—When we truly understand the impact and effect of sin. When we see how it impacts those around us, when we meditate on the cross of Christ, when we see the pain caused by even the “smallest” of our sins, we should develop a hate for any behavior or attitude that separates us from Jesus and from one another. A dear friend taught me several years ago the very painful yet rewarding practice of praying for God to not only point out my sins to me, but also show me the effects of my sin on my relationship with Him and with those around me. That is a prayer He has never failed to answer. Seeing the impact of my sin on those I love most and on my relationship with the Lord always causes a hatred for that sin to grow in me. Instead of it being something I love and want to cling to, it becomes something I desire to strip from my life as soon as possible.

6. Turning from Sin—Once you have developed a hate for the thing that causes such pain and separation, the only rational thing left to do is to separate yourself from that sin. Turning from your sin and running to the cross of Christ is the only option you have left.

This is an overview of true repentance. In the next series of posts, I will discuss some of the things that repentance is not and where Christians tend to fall short in our dealings with sin in our lives.