We see here the care the apostle takes to prevent their being offended at his sufferings. He was now a prisoner at Rome; this might be a stumbling-block to those who had received the gospel by his ministry. They might be tempted to think, If this doctrine were indeed of God, God would not suffer one who was so active and instrumental in preaching and propagating it to be thrown by as a despised broken vessel. They might be shy of owning this doctrine, lest they should be involved in the same trouble themselves. Now to take off the offence of the cross, he expounds this dark and hard chapter of his sufferings, and makes it very easy and intelligible, and reconcilable to the wisdom and goodness of God who employed him.
I. He suffered by the sworn enemies of the gospel, who laid him in prison, and aimed at taking away his life; but they should not be stumbled at this, for good was brought out of it, and it tended to the furtherance of the gospel (Phil. 1:12): The things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel. A strange chemistry of Providence this, to extract so great a good as the enlargement of the gospel out of so great an evil as the confinement of the apostle. “I suffer trouble as an evil-doer, even unto bonds; but the word of God is not bound, 2 Tim. 2:9. They cannot imprison the word of God; that has its free course, though I am confined.” But how was this?
1. It alarmed those who were without (Phil. 1:13): “My bonds in Christ, or for Christ, are manifest in all the palace and in all other places. The emperor, the courtiers, the magistrates, are convinced that I do not suffer as an evil-doer, but as an honest man, with a good conscience. They know that I suffer for Christ, and not for any wickedness.” Observe, (1.) Paul’s sufferings made him known at court, where perhaps he would never have otherwise been known; and this might lead some of them to enquire after the gospel for which he suffered, which they might otherwise have never heard of. (2.) When his bonds were manifest in the palace, they were manifest in all other places. The sentiments of the court have a great influence on the sentiments of all people—Regis ad exemplum totus componitur orbis.
2. It emboldened those who were within. As his enemies were startled at his sufferings, so his friends were encouraged by them. Upright men shall be astonished at this, and the innocent shall stir up himself against the hypocrite. The righteous also shall hold on his way, and he who has clean hands shall be stronger and stronger, Job 17:8, 9. So it was here: Many of the brethren in the Lord waxing confident by my bonds, Phil. 1:14. The expectation of trouble for their religion, in general, perhaps disheartened and discouraged them; but, when they saw Paul imprisoned for Christ, they were so far from being deterred from preaching Christ and praising his name, that it made them the more bold; for they could gladly suffer in Paul’s company. If they should be hurried from the pulpit to the prison, they could be reconciled to it, because they would be there in such good company. Besides, the comfort which Paul had in his sufferings, his extraordinary consolations received from Christ in a suffering state, greatly encouraged them. They saw that those who served Christ served a good Master, who could both bear them up and bear them out, in their sufferings for him. Waxing confident by my bonds. Pepoithotas. They were more fully satisfied and persuaded by what they saw. Observe the power of divine grace; that which was intended by the enemy to discourage the preachers of the gospel was overruled for their encouragement. And are much more bold to speak the word without fear; they see the worst of it, and therefore are not afraid to venture. Their confidence gave them courage, and their courage preserved them from the power of fear.
II. He suffered from false friends as well as from enemies (Phil. 1:15, 16): Some preach Christ even of envy and strife. The one preach Christ of contention, not sincerely. Now this would be a stumbling-block and discouragement to some, that there were those who envied Paul’s reputation in the churches, and the interest he had among the Christians, and endeavoured to supplant and undermine him. They were secretly pleased when he was laid up in prison, that they might have the better opportunity to steal away the people’s affections; and they laid themselves out the more in preaching, that they might gain to themselves the reputation they envied him: Supposing to add affliction to my bonds. They thought hereby to grieve his spirit, and make him afraid of losing his interest, uneasy under his confinement, and impatient for release. It is sad that there should be men who profess the gospel, especially who preach it, who are governed by such principles as these, who should preach Christ in spite to Paul, and to increase the affliction of his bonds. Let us not think it strange if in these later and more degenerate ages of the church there should be any such. However, there were others who were animated by Paul’s sufferings to preach Christ the more vigorously: Some also of good will, and love: from sincere affection to the gospel, that the work might not stand while the workman was laid up.—Knowing that I am set for the defence of the gospel. They knew that he was appointed to support and propagate the gospel in the world, against all the violence and opposition of its enemies, and were afraid lest the gospel should suffer by his confinement. This made them the more bold to preach the word and supply his lack of service to the church.
III. It is very affecting to see how easy he was in the midst of all: Notwithstanding every way, whether in pretence or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and I will rejoice, Phil. 1:18. Note, The preaching of Christ is the joy of all who wish well to his kingdom among men. Since it may tend to the good of many, we ought to rejoice in it, though it be done in pretence, and not in reality. It is God’s prerogative to judge of the principles men act upon; this is out of our line. Paul was so far from envying those who had liberty to preach the gospel while he was under confinement that he rejoiced in the preaching of it even by those who do it in pretence, and not in truth. How much more then should we rejoice in the preaching of the gospel by those who do it in truth, yea, though it should be with much weakness and some mistake! Two things made the apostle rejoice in the preaching of the gospel:—
1. Because it tended to the salvation of the souls of men: I know that this shall turn to my salvation, Phil. 1:19. Observe, God can bring good out of evil; and what does not turn to the salvation of the ministers may yet, by the grace of God, be made to turn to the salvation of the people. What reward can those expect who preach Christ out of strife, and envy, and contention, and to add affliction to a faithful minister’s bonds? who preach in pretence, and not in truth? And yet even this may turn to the salvation of others; and Paul’s rejoicing in it turned to his salvation too. This is one of the things which accompany salvation—to be able to rejoice that Christ is preached, though it be to the diminution of us and our reputation. This noble spirit appeared in John the Baptist, at the first public preaching of Christ: “This my joy therefore is fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease, John 3:29, 30. Let him shine, though I be obscured; and his glory be exalted, though upon my ruins.” Others understand this expression of the malice of his enemies being defeated, and contributing towards his deliverance from his confinement. Through your prayers, and the supply of the Spirit of Christ. Note, Whatever turns to our salvation is by the supply or the aids and assistance of the Spirit of Christ; and prayer is the appointed means of fetching in that supply. The prayers of the people may bring a supply of the Spirit to their ministers, to support them in suffering, as well as in preaching the gospel.
2. Because it would turn to the glory of Christ, Phil. 1:20; where he takes occasion to mention his own entire devotedness to the service and honour of Christ: According to my earnest expectation and hope, that in nothing I shall be ashamed, etc. Here observe, (1.) The great desire of every true Christian is that Christ may be magnified and glorified, that his name may be great, and his kingdom come. (2.) Those who truly desire that Christ may be magnified desire that he may be magnified in their body. They present their bodies a living sacrifice (Rom. 12:1), and yield their members as instruments of righteousness unto God, Rom. 6:13. They are willing to serve his designs, and be instrumental to his glory, with every member of their body, as well as faculty of their soul. (3.) It is much for the glory of Christ that we should serve him boldly and not be ashamed of him, with freedom and liberty of mind, and without discouragement: That in nothing I shall be ashamed, but that with all boldness Christ may be magnified. The boldness of Christians is the honour of Christ. (4.) Those who make Christ’s glory their desire and design may make it their expectation and hope. If it be truly aimed at, it shall certainly be attained. If in sincerity we pray, Father, glorify thy name, we may be sure of the same answer to that prayer which Christ had: I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again, John 12:28. (5.) Those who desire that Christ may be magnified in their bodies have a holy indifference whether it be by life or by death. They refer it to him which way he will make them serviceable to his glory, whether by their labours or sufferings, by their diligence or patience, by their living to his honour in working for him or dying to his honour in suffering for him.