In Chains for Christ

By Pamela Lewis

A Reading from Philippians 1:12-30

12 I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually resulted in the progress of the gospel, 13 so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to everyone else that my imprisonment is for Christ, 14 and most of the brothers and sisters, having been made confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, dare to speak the word with greater boldness and without fear.

15 Some proclaim Christ from envy and rivalry but others from goodwill. 16 These proclaim Christ out of love, knowing that I have been put here for the defense of the gospel; 17 the others proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but intending to increase my suffering in my imprisonment. 18 What does it matter? Just this, that Christ is proclaimed in every way, whether out of false motives or true, and in that I rejoice.

Yes, and I will rejoice, 19 for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my salvation. 20 It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be put to shame in any way but that by my speaking with all boldness Christ will be exalted now as always in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. 22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me, yet I cannot say which I will choose. 23 I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better, 24 but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you. 25 Since I am convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy in faith, 26 so that, by my presence again with you, your boast might abound in Christ Jesus because of me.

27 Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel 28 and in no way frightened by those opposing you. For them, this is evidence of their destruction but of your salvation. And this is God’s doing. 29 For he has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ but of suffering for him as well, 30 since you are having the same struggle that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.

Meditation

In these grace-filled verses of Paul’s personal letter to the Philippians, Paul writes of seeing his imprisonment, not as a hindrance, but as an opportunity to spread the gospel; everyone in the palace where Paul is held knows that he is really in bondage to Christ. And it is Paul’s chains (the word used in some translations) that embolden others to speak the word of God.

We will recall that Paul ended up in chains in a Roman prison for preaching the Gospel while visiting Jerusalem, where he was arrested. But he appealed to Caesar to hear his case (Acts 21:15-25:12), and was then escorted by soldiers to Rome, where he was placed under house arrest awaiting trial; not a trial for breaking the civil law, but for proclaiming the good news of Christ.

Paul is not naïve and recognizes that some — as in our own time — who claim to preach Christ have mixed motives or selfish impulses. Some sought to take advantage of Paul’s imprisonment to advance themselves. This is not to condone or excuse those behaviors, nor is it possible to control what inspires the preaching; what matters most is that Christ is preached, and Paul rejoices in that, as should all who would follow the Lord.

We do not by nature embrace suffering, and we determinedly try to avoid it. Paul saw his suffering as his highest joy (a word he uses often in this letter), and could endure his circumstances for the gospel, ever confident that the prayers of others would buttress his will. He instructs as well on gospel-worthy behavior, noting that how we comport ourselves is important, as it must reflect the gospel of Christ. Fear of those who oppose us, and destructive in-fighting are contrary to the gospel, for it is only a unified and purposeful Church that can stand firm in faith.

Pamela A. Lewis taught French for 30 years before retirement. A lifelong resident of Queens, New York, she attends Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue and serves on various lay ministries. She writes for The Episcopal New YorkerEpiscopal Journal, and The Living Church.

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