Overcoming Circumstances – Philippians 1:12-18

Download MP3

(Greek words can be viewed using the Symbol font)

Sermon Study Sheets

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 happens?

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 fqonoV / 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?” The 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.


Sermon 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 trials.


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 through.

Grace Bible Church Home Page | This Week’s Sermon | Sermon Archives

For comments, please e-mail  Church office Mark the subject line “Web Comment” or “Web ?” so that we know your e-mail is not SPAM