Bulletin Articles

Bulletin Articles

Set for the Defense of the Gospel

“Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife, but some also from good will; the latter do it out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice” (Phil 1:15-18, NASB).


This passage can be a little puzzling at first, and perhaps it is difficult for us to understand Paul's attitude here. How can he be so generous toward those who meant malice toward him? There were those whose preaching was intended to actually cause Paul harm, yet, Paul thought, as long as Christ is preached, then he will rejoice. Even if there are those preaching from selfish ambition, if Christ is being taught then he can rejoice in that.


The point here is not to delve into whether someone can actually preach Christ truthfully whose ambitions are wholly against the spirit of Christ. It is certainly possible for someone to teach the truth outwardly while inwardly having bad motives. We might not count on that being the norm, but it is possible. However, the point is to think about where Paul is setting his focusing. What allows him to have the attitude demonstrated here is that he is not focused on himself. He is not worried so much about what people think of him. His concern was to exalt Christ “whether by life or by death” (v. 20). If others with selfish ambitions mistreated Paul, and yet that mistreatment resulted in the furtherance of the gospel through the suffering of Paul, then Paul was willing and happy to receive such mistreatment so long as Christ is exalted. If his own personal suffering and inconveniences meant that the kingdom of Christ is furthered, then he believed he was serving his purpose.


Paul then declares,


“Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (vv. 18-21, ESV)


Let that sink in for a moment: “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” When we think that “to live” means that we satisfy ourselves, selfishly acting to further our own cause or living for our own pleasures, then any concept we have of furthering the gospel through suffering will be lost. We may think that we should not have to suffer at all, Especially for those of us who have lived in relative luxury and enjoyed protected rights, we find it hard to fathom why someone would have an attitude so willing to give up the comfort and freedom. How is that living?


On the other hand, if we believe “to live” means that Christ is exalted in our lives, then we take on a new attitude toward what happens to us. Not that we seek to suffer in some artificial way, going out merely to tempt others to ridicule us or to purposely try to make ourselves look pitiful. Rather, we should simply let our lights shine, live to glorify Christ, and Christ will be magnified as a result of our problems and sufferings. Like Paul, we need to readily and gladly accept bearing the reproach of Christ. As the Hebrews writer put it:


“For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.” (Heb 13:11-14, ESV)


Paul's defense of the gospel, then, was not that of simply preaching and defending Christ through argumentation and public speaking. His defense included the willingness to suffer the hardship brought on by those who opposed him so strongly. The defense of the gospel is not merely a verbal defense (as per 1 Peter 3:15), but one that is lived without shame for Christ even while bearing His shame (think about it). “To live is Christ and to die is gain” is the ultimate test of how willing we are to defend the gospel. 


Paul was willing to suffer the loss of all things “in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him.” This includes sharing in the sufferings of Jesus and “becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (Phil 3:8-11)


May God help us all to live boldly in our defense of Jesus Christ.