Overcoming Circumstances – Philippians 1:12-18

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Pastor Scott L. Harris

Grace Bible Church, NY

March 14, 2004

Overcoming Circumstances

Philippians 1:12-18


There is an old joke about four men in England that were all seated in the
same booth on a train. During the course of conversation, one of them men
boasted that he could correctly guess the occupations of the others solely by
his observations of them. They agreed to let him try and so he carefully looked
at the first man and declared that he was a banker. The man was surprised by the
correct assessment and asked how he knew. He replied it was his manner of dress,
his briefcase and professional demeanor. He then looked at the second man and
correctly assessed that he was a printer based on the stains on his hands and
the smell of ink. He then looked at the third man who had been fairly quite,
looked a bit pale with a very somber face and guessed he was a clergyman. The
man protested that he was not, but had just been sick lately.

There was a time when it was thought that the KJV translation of 1 Tim.
3:8,11 & Titus 2:2 that Deacons, Deaconesses and older men were to be “grave”
meant that Christians were to be somber like they were in a funeral parlor all
the time. As we will be seeing throughout our study of the book of Philippians,
the Christian life should be one of joy. There should not be any group of people
more joyful than those who have had their sins forgiven through faith in Jesus.

Yet, at the same time, the reality is that Christians can also have a lot of
sorrows. We can go through some very rough times. In fact, we are warned that as
Christians we will have tribulation in this world (John 16:33) and will be
persecuted by the unrighteous for striving to live godly lives (2 Tim. 3:12). 1
Peter 2:9 speaks of the way in which a Christian is to “bear up under sorrows
when suffering unjustly.”
We are to have “godly sorrow” over our sins that
lead to repentance (2 Cor. 7:10,11), and if we do not, then the Lord will bring
on us the sorrow of His chastening to correct us (Heb. 12:4-11). Even Jesus was
called a “man of sorrows” in Isaiah 53:3.

How then do these two things go together? A Christian will go through great
sorrow, yet is to also be joyful. How can we be as described in 2 Corinthians
6:10, “as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing”? We will see the answers to
that question in our study today of Philippians 1:12-18, for Paul is able to be
joyful even in the midst of very difficult circumstances.


12 Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out
for the greater progress of the gospel, so that my imprisonment in [the cause
of] Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to
everyone else, and that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my
imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear. 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, yes, and I will rejoice


Basic Principle – vs. 12, 13a

The basic principle of overcoming circumstances is seen in Paul’s response to
his situation. The Philippians knew that Paul circumstances were not good. He
was in prison and they were concerned for him. Paul’s response to their concern
was to let them know how things were going, but he does not focus on the
circumstances. When a person is overcome by circumstances, they will focus on
those circumstances.

Consider the way in which most of us respond when someone we know cares about
us asks us how we are doing. I emphasize here that this is a person that we know
genuinely cares about us. While a common courteous greeting is to ask a person
how they are doing, the expected answer, and the one usually given, is “fine,”
even when things are bad. People usually will not open themselves up if they do
not trust the one asking or do not think their inquiry is sincere. When we are
asked that same question by someone we know loves us, we will usually give them
more information about how we are really doing. What do we focus on when that

If the circumstances we are facing are overwhelming us, we will talk about
the situation we are facing. We might complain. We might share our sorrows and
woes feeling we just need a shoulder to cry on for a while. We might seek their
advice on how to deal with things. We may even ask them to pray for us. All
those responses are common among all people, even Christians. Though a Christian
should not be a complainer, the other responses may be fine. We need to be able
to speak freely with one another about the tough issues we may be facing and
receive advice and be prayed for. But there is a better way, and Paul shows it
to us by his response.

Paul does not overlook his hard circumstances for he plainly states in this
passage that he wants his Philippian brethren in the Lord to know the things
related to him, his circumstances (vs. 12). He is in prison (vs. 13) and there
are other believers who out of their selfish ambition and envy seek to cause
Paul additional distress in his imprisonment (vs. 15-17). But Paul is not
overcome by these circumstances, and he does not dwell on them. Instead, he is
overcoming them by focusing on what God was doing in the midst of them, and in
this case the gospel was being spread. Circumstances, whether bad or good, when
joined with a godly perspective will result in rejoicing. (The opposite is also
true. Good circumstances when joined to an ungodly perspective will result in a
host of negative attitudes and actions).

While this may seem like an unattainable level of Christian maturity to some,
it is actually only living out the truths Paul and James had already presented.
The tough circumstances, trials and tribulations we face as Christians are used
by God to mature us into Godly people.

James 1:2-4 puts it this way, “consider it all joy, my brethren, when you
encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces
endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result that you may be perfect and
complete, lacking in nothing.

Paul says basically the same thing in Romans 5:3-8. “And not only this,
but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about
perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope;
and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within
our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. For while we were still
helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die
for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to
die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet
sinners, Christ died for us.

The origin of these trials and tribulations will vary and range from the
persecution that comes from sinful people as we strive to live godly lives in
Christ Jesus (2 Tim. 3:12) to the natural consequences or God’s chastisement of
us when we ourselves sin (Heb. 12). But regardless of the origin, God is able to
use such difficult situations in our lives to develop godliness in us as He
mature us and conforms us into the image of His Son (Rom. 8:28,29). That is why
both Paul and James say there is a cause of rejoicing even in the midst of
trials and tribulations. God is not caught off guard and He will use even these
things to bring about good results in the lives of all those who love Him and
are called according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28).

The Bible is full of examples of this principle in action with the “hall of
faith” of Hebrews 11 being one chapter in which many such examples are
specifically given in demonstrating how their faith in God enabled them to
overcome their circumstances. Again, circumstances, whether good or bad, when
combined with a godly perspective will result in a cause for rejoicing.

In Paul’s case, he is in Rome, and he is reporting to the Philippians that he
was imprisoned and that there were other Christians that because of bad motives
wanted to add to his distress. While his imprisonment is not as bad as it could
be, for Acts 28:30,31 describes his situation as follows, “And he stayed two
full years in his own rented quarters, and was welcoming all who came to him, 31
preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with
all openness, unhindered.”
His imprisonment is more of a house arrest than
being confined and isolated in a jail, but Paul was not free to do all that
would have been on his heart as he had expressed in his letter to the Romans
some years earlier.

In this type of imprisonment, he was confined to his rented quarters, for
which he would have been dependent on the charity of others to provide for him.
He would also have been physically chained to a guard at all times. Paul speaks
about his “chains” in both Ephesians 6:20 where he describes himself as an
“ambassador in chains” and in 2 Timothy 1:16 he describes the charity of the
house of Onesiphorus who “often refreshed” him and was “not ashamed” of his
chains. Paul could never have any privacy, and he was not free to go where he
would like. In the midst of all this, it was apparent that some Christians did
not like Paul and sought to add to his distress by maligning him even as they
also preached Christ.

What is Paul’s reaction to his circumstances? Paul overcame them by focusing
on what God was doing even in the midst of them. As he states in 2 Timothy 2:9,
though he was imprisoned as a criminal would be, the word of God was not
imprisoned. Paul’s circumstances were proving to be a means for the greater
progress of the gospel, and so there was cause to rejoice. That does not mean
that Paul enjoyed being in chains or maligned by others, but it does mean he
kept a godly perspective and so found joy.

Progress of the Gospel

How did Paul’s imprisonment become a means for the progress of the gospel?

Praetorian Guard and More – vs. 13

The second half of verse 13 gives us the first specific. “Christ has
become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else.”
The same chain that kept Paul from going anywhere also linked the guard to
Paul. Imagine being a pagan guard who is now linked to Paul for however many
hours his duty shift would last. And remember that it would not have been the
same guard all the time, but it would be a rotation of different guards with
each one fulfilling the hours of their shift. Remember as well that this
imprisonment was at least two years in length, so over the course of that time,
there would have been many different guards who would have been chained to Paul.

Keep in mind here the statements in Acts 28:30,31. Paul could not leave, but
he was free to have people visit him, and to the many that did Paul was “preaching
the kingdom of God, and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all
openness, unhindered
.” These various guards would be there to hear all these
conversations. And I don’t think there is any wild speculation in assuming that
these same guards would be speaking to Paul in private about all these things
when the guests were gone. They would have known the false charges against him
as well as found out from Paul the circumstances of his imprisonment and that it
was because it was a matter of his beliefs about God. They would then be hearing
all that he taught about God. They would also see him in every situation to know
the result of those beliefs in how Paul lived. They would not only have heard
the gospel from Paul, but would see it lived out moment by moment in Paul’s
life. A challenge from Paul’s example to us is to consider how people would
react to what we proclaimed if they were also with us throughout every moment of
daily life. Paul had a positive effect on these men because his daily life in
living for Christ matched his stated beliefs.

One other factor to keep in mind here is that the men watching Paul are
members of the praetorian guard. This group of 10,000 or more hand picked
soldiers were the elite unit of the Roman army. They were specifically charged
with the protection of the Emperor and were stationed throughout Rome for that
purpose and to keep the general peace. They served for twelve years and then
were granted the highest honors and privileges in their society. Like any
military unit, they would have lived together in a camp or base, and these
various men who were assigned to guard Paul would certainly have talked about
him with one another.

Many of these men did respond to the gospel message and became Christians. In
turn, they would tell others in their unit the good news of Jesus Christ and how
to know the God who created all things. Because the duty of the praetorian guard
included protecting the Emperor and his household, it is assumed that it would
have been through them that some in Caesar’s household also became Christians,
as Phil. 4:22 indicates. These would be some of the “everyone else” Paul refers
to here in 1:13 among whom the gospel was making progress. The rest of the
“everyone else” would be those Acts 28:30,31 who came to talk with Paul and
learn of the teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ.

Romans 1:9-15 tells us of Paul’s desire to go to Rome to minister there and
preach the gospel. Though the circumstances were not what Paul would have liked,
God was allowing him to do exactly that, and to have an effect on a group, the
praetorian guard and through them Caesar’s household, that he might not
otherwise would have been able to reach. Paul’s imprisonment was indeed turning
out to be for the greater progress of the gospel.

Brethren Encouraged – vs. 14

Another effect that Paul’s imprisonment was having in being used for the
greater progress of the gospel was the encouragement it gave to other Christians
in their ministries. Verse 14 states, “that most of the brethren, trusting in
the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of
God without fear.”

As the next few verses will show, there were different motives about why they
were doing this, but the fact is that Paul being in prison became a reason they
became more bold in preaching the gospel. To be sure, it was not everyone, for
there would be those that would become afraid that they too might go to prison
since Paul had been sent there, but as the text indicates, the reaction of most
of the brethren there was an increased boldness.

Envy or Good Will – vs. 15

The motivation behind this boldness in preaching the gospel varied. In verse
15 we find that “Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and
strife, but some also from good will.”

There were those that were envious of Paul. Envy is from
/ phthonos which “is the
feeling of displeasure produced by witnessing or hearing of the advantage or
prosperity of others”
(Vines). In this case they were not envious that Paul
was imprisoned, but that Paul was held in such high esteem and respected by
other Christians. Tragically, it is not that uncommon to find immature
Christians who are envious of other believers because of the ministry that God
has given to someone else. Immature people do not want others to receive more
attention, fame, prestige or even spiritual success than themselves. I wish it
were not true, but when I am at conferences, I will usually run into pastors who
are envious of other pastors who have larger ministries. We should rejoice since
we are all on the same team, but pride often places the goal of the team as
secondary to its own ego.

Paul joins envy with strife. Strife is eriV
/ eris, which “is the expression of enmity” (Vines) and so could also be
translated with words such as contention, quarreling or rivalry. Paul had to
correct the church at Corinth for this. In 1 Corinthians 1:10-13 Paul writes
them, “Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that
you all agree, and there be no divisions among you, but you be made complete in
the same mind and in the same judgment. 11 For I have been informed concerning
you, my brethren, by Chloe’s [people,] that there are quarrels among you. 12 Now
I mean this, that each one of you is saying, “I am of Paul,” and “I of Apollos,”
and “I of Cephas,” and “I of Christ.” 13 Has Christ been divided? Paul was not
crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?”
same kind of attitudes were being exhibited in Rome as some who were envious of
Paul’s ministry sought to gain followers for themselves.

But Paul also points out here in 1:15 that others were encouraged to speak
the word of God without fear out of good will. They had proper motive. They were
supportive and grateful of Paul’s ministry and only desired to add to what God
was doing regardless of any personal gain or loss that might result.

Love or Selfish Ambition – vs. 16,17

Verse 16 tells us that in addition to their good will, these people were also
doing it “out of love, knowing that [Paul] was appointed for the
defense of the gospel.”
Certainly it was out of a love for Jesus Christ that
they were preaching the gospel, but the context here is that their personal love
for Paul and what he was going through encouraged them to proclaim God’s word
all the more. Paul adds here that part of the reason for this is that these were
people that clearly understood that God had appointed Paul for the defense of
the gospel. Anyone that heard Paul’s testimony of his conversion from Saul the
persecutor of the church to Paul the proclaimer of its truth should have
understood that.

In addition, many of them may have known what the Lord had revealed to
Ananias in Acts 9:15,16, “But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen
instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons
of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake.”

Not only was Paul specifically chosen to proclaim the gospel, but he would also
suffer for his testimony. Therefore, they would not have been surprised at
Paul’s imprisonment and the reason for it.

Verse 17 goes on to reveal more about the improper motives of others, “the
former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition , rather than from pure motives,
thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment.”
Who would preach Christ
out of selfish ambition? The term used here had the connotation of someone who
was putting themselves forward usually with a partisan and factious spirit (BDB/Thayers).
You could use the term “electioneering.” This when you make yourself out to be
better than you are while making others out to be worse than they are.

How was this to cause Paul distress? As men selfishly try to climb to the top
of Christian circles they often seek to pull others down. It still happens
today. While Paul does not specifically say here what kinds of things were said,
we can get some idea from comments he makes in other epistles. We already saw in
1 Corinthians that there were many factions in that church. We know from Paul’s
warning to the Ephesians elders in Acts 20 that from within the church there
would arise “wolves” who would seek to draw disciples after them. Paul’s
imprisonment would be used to promote themselves while tearing down Paul. Those
who thought Paul to be too meek (2 Cor. 10:1; 11:7) would say he was imprisoned
because he was not bold enough for God. Others accused Paul of walking according
to the flesh (2 Cor. 10:2) and would say that is the reason he was in prison.
Others said Paul was unimpressive in personal presence and contemptible in
speech (2 Cor. 10:10; 11:6) and would say that was the reason he got into
trouble. If he had been better in those areas he would not have made so many
enemies. Then there would be those that could claim that Paul’s imprisonment, as
contrasted to their own freedom, was obvious evidence of who God favored. All
this was done to increase their own standing and following while desiring to
cause Paul distress.

It is important to note that these things were coming from those who were
preaching the gospel. Paul never hesitated to correct false teachers about the
error of their message. These were people who had wrong motives, but were
never-the-less proclaiming the truth about Jesus Christ and the forgiveness of
sin that comes by God’s grace through faith in Him. Even those these people did
not like Paul for whatever reason, they at least were still allies in the cause
of Jesus Christ. If his allies were saying such things, you can only imagine
what Paul’s enemies who were proclaiming a false gospel were saying.

Tragically, the same kind of thing does still occur today. Immature
believers, which includes some pastors, will still seek to gain the acceptance
and adulation of other Christians by promoting themselves while tearing down
others. That sort of thing continues until the individual learns that life
really is about God’s glory and not your own. Whatever gift, ministry and power
in that ministry you have comes as a gift from God and not from our own doing (1
Cor. 12). God requires simple faithfulness from us, not some standard of
“success” created by men.


Rejoicing in Christ Proclaimed – vs. 18

Paul declares his reaction to these things in verse 18. “What then? Only
that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in
this I rejoice, yes, and I will rejoice.”

Paul did not let his own circumstances get him down. He did not let the
efforts of others to purposely try to cause him distress bother him. Paul
overcame his circumstances by keeping his focus correct. He rejoiced that Jesus
Christ was being proclaimed regardless of the motives of those doing the
preaching. To be sure, he would rejoice even more if everyone had true motives,
for that would demonstrate godly maturity on their part that would be glorifying
to God. But even if they were preaching Christ with wrong motives, Paul was glad
the message of Jesus Christ was going out. Paul stressed that point by repeating
that “yes, and I will rejoice.” His resolve to rejoice over the
proclamation of Jesus Christ would not waver regardless of any personal attacks
and hurt he would suffer from those who were doing so with wrong motives.

That is an important lesson for all of us, because ministry is not about us.
It is about Jesus Christ and His glory. Paul did not have to follow their
example and envy them for not being in prison or seek any kind of revenge for
their cruelty toward him. Paul was confident in God, and he would leave them and
their wrongs motives in God’s hand for correction. We can do the same with those
that might treat us in a similar manner.  If Jesus wants us to love our
enemies and pray for them (Mt. 5:43-48), then certainly we can do the same to
those who because of their wrong motives seek to be our rivals.

We do not have to let our circumstances overcome us. We can overcome our
circumstances by keeping a godly perspective and looking for what He is doing
even in the midst of the trials and tribulations we go through. Jesus is always
with us (Matt. 28:20), and God does work all things for good for those that love
Him and are called according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28). Those are not Christian
cliches, but Biblical truths that allow us to rejoice in what God is doing
regardless of any circumstance we might be in. So the next time things get tough
for you, start looking to see how God might be glorifying Himself in the midst
of what you are going through as well as what He is doing in you personally to
make you more like Jesus Christ.


Study Sheets





Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives.
Here is some help.

Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the
sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children –
Do one or more of the following: 1) Write down all the verses mentioned in the
sermon and look them up later. 2) Count how many times the word “circumstances”
is mentioned Talk with your parents about how you can rejoice in the midst of


Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others.

How should a Christian respond to his emotions and how much should he let
others see them? How can a Christian be sorrowful and joyful at the same time?
How do people react when they are overcome by circumstances? How do they react
when they are overcoming circumstances? How can James 1:2-4 and Romans 5:3-8
help you in your life? What are some of the origins of the trials and
tribulations we face? What situation was Paul facing in Philippians 1:12-18? How
did Paul react to them? What do you think your reaction to such circumstances
might be? Why? Who are the Praetorian guard and how did Paul affect them? How
did they affect others? How was Paul able to minister the gospel in Rome? How
did Paul’s imprisonment encourage others to proclaim the word of God? Why would
some preach out of envy and strife? Out of selfish ambition? How did they think
they could cause Paul distress? How are these people contrasted with those who
preached out of good will with love? How did Paul respond to all this? Why? What
is the basic principle of how a Christian can overcome circumstances? How did
Paul demonstrate it? How have you been able to demonstrate it?


Sermon Notes – March 14, 2004

Overcoming Circumstances Philippians 1:12-18



Basic Principle – vs. 12

James 1:2-4

Romans 5:3-8.

Origins of Trials

Specific Situation


Progress of the Gospel


Praetorian Guard and More – vs. 13

Brethren Encouraged – vs. 14

Envy or Good Will – vs. 15

Love or Selfish Ambition – vs. 16,17

Rejoicing in Christ Proclaimed – vs. 18




We can overcome our circumstances by keeping a godly perspective and looking
for what God is doing even in the midst of the trials and tribulations we go