Those who are fully alive because of the gospel, who in Paul's language have nothing yet possess everything (2 Cor 6:10), exist as a constant threat to those whose minds are set on merely earthly things. Leave Paul alone and he and his companions will be those who have turned the world upside down (Acts 17:6); put him in prison and he turns Caesar's elite upside down (Phil 1:13), not to mention Caesar's very household (4:22). To paraphrase Brutus, "Yon Paul has that lean and hungry look; he talks too much. Such men are dangerous." Here is a person not just making the best of his circumstances but actually turning them around for the glory of God. No wonder joy abounds.
The opening clause (v. 12) offers all kinds of clues as to the nature and structure of the letter. First, Paul begins with the exact words found in scores and scores of ancient letters, especially so-called family letters: I want you to know, brothers [and sisters]. Second, what has happened to me ("my circumstances/affairs"), which also occurs frequently in these letters, serves as a key to the macro structure of Philippians, at least the first half (see 1:27 ["about you" your affairs], 2:19 [your affairs] and 23 [my affairs]). This is exactly the stuff of letters of friendship in the Greco-Roman world.
Third, the word advance ("progress" in v. 25), otherwise rare in Paul's letters, frames the present set of reflections, thus serving as a microstructural key to verses 12-26. In verse 12 his imprisonment has served for the progress of the gospel; in verse 25 his expected release will serve to further their progress in the faith.
For Paul, of course, this is the language of evangelism. In a world of religious pluralism, where evangelism has become something of a dirty word, we must not give in to the temptation to downplay this dimension of Paul's life in Christ. Evangelism was his "meat and potatoes" (or "rice," in the case of Asian Christians)—and not, as Christians are sometimes accused, because he was insecure or had a deep psychological need to be right and thus had to convert others so as to bolster his own convictions. Rather, he was a believer in the truest sense of that word: one who believed not only that the gospel is God's "message of truth" (Gal 2:5, 14) but that it contains the only good news for a fallen, broken world.
Paul himself is directly responsible for the advance of the gospel throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else (Phil 1:13). Palace guard refers to the emperor's elite troops (his "green berets" or security police) stationed in Rome. They guarded Paul around the clock but would have given him access to visitors, to the writing of letters and to other routine affairs. Since they rotated on a basically four-hour shift, Paul would have had access to several—or many—of them, from whom eventually the whole guard came to know the reason for his bonds, that he was in chains for Christ.
It is not clear to whom everyone else refers—most likely another group of people outside the Praetorian Guard who had dealings with imperial affairs. Thus anyone in Rome who had occasion to know about Paul's confinement had also come to learn that it had to do with his being a propagator of the nascent Christian faith.
We should not miss Paul's obvious delight in this mild triumph regarding his arrest, the same kind we find at the end of the letter when he sends greetings from "all the saints, . . . especially those who belong to Caesar's household" (4:22). While this might be interpreted as a kind of one-upmanship, Paul's concern was to encourage the Philippians in their own current suffering, resulting in part from their lack of loyalty to the emperor. To the world—and especially to the citizens of a Roman colony—Caesar may be "lord"; but to Paul and to the believers in Philippi, only Jesus is Lord (2:11), and his lordship over Caesar is already making itself felt through the penetration of the gospel into the heart of Roman political life.
At the same time, Paul is also indirectly responsible for the evangelism presently occurring outside prison (1:14). Again he emphasizes my chains, which have served as the immediate cause of newfound boldness among the brothers and sisters in Rome. Paul's reflection on this matter is remarkable indeed. Though he would surely prefer freedom so that he himself might evangelize, he recognizes that God has used his curtailment to prod others. The rejoicing that ensues (v. 18) must be taken seriously. Here is one for whom the gospel is bigger than his personal role in making it known.
Thus the majority of believers in Rome have found new confidence in the Lord (see note). The Lord, of course, is the risen Lord Jesus Christ, who is both the ground of their confidence and the content of the word which they have been emboldened to speak more courageously and fearlessly.
This probably reflects the situation in Rome in the early 60s, when Nero's madness was peaking and the church there had begun to fall under suspicion, as Nero's pogrom against them just a couple of years later bears witness. The present situation in Rome for the followers of Christ had perhaps (understandably) led them to be more quiescent than was usual for early Christians. For good reason, then, Paul joyfully explains to the Philippian believers that the net effect of his imprisonment has been to give their Roman brothers and sisters extraordinary courage to proclaim Christ, at the heart of the empire itself where storm clouds are brewing.
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