Bible Philippians

God’s Agenda: Kingdom Advancement (Phil 1:12-18)

In the 1950’s a young African American pastor began organizing peaceful protests in an effort to gain equal rights among blacks and whites. Shortly after his first several successful protests he was elected president of the Southern Christian Leadership Alliance (SCLC) to fight segregation and achieve civil rights. He organized peaceful protest after peaceful protest throughout the southern United States. In April of 1963 he was organizing protests in Birmingham, Alabama which he called “the most segregated city in the nation” (Bruns, Martin Luther King, Jr: A Biography, 73).

God's Agenda: Kingdom Advancement (Phil 1:12-18)

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As the protests carried on over time in Birmingham, one peaceful protest occurred on Good Friday, April 12, 1963. Fifty volunteers left the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church to peacefully protest segregation and seek civil rights. This peaceful protest led to the arrest of this leader of the Southern Christian Leadership Alliance as he was peacefully on his knees in prayer. After a couple of days in solitary confinement in jail, eight prominent white clergyman from Birmingham took out a full-page ad in the newspaper in which they wrote a letter criticizing the protests and stating that this young leader was causing unnecessary trouble making. While in jail this young leader was given a copy of that letter and in the margins of the newspaper he began to craft a careful and meticulate response to their allegations. This man I have been describing to you—which you might have already guessed—is Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., Ph.D. and the letter I described to you is his famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” I want to start the message today with this story because like Rev. Martin Luther King, the apostle Paul also was in prison at the time that he wrote this letter to the believers in Philippi. Both men were imprisoned for a Godly cause that they each believed in and each one eventually met an earthly death because of their cause for Christ. (For a careful description of the events that led to Dr. King’s arrest see Bruns, Martin Luther King, Jr: A Biography, 73-83).


A. Through Paul’s Circumstances the Gospel Advanced (v. 12) 

“Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that rather throughout my circumstances the Gospel has advanced.” (Phil 1:12)[ref]Unless otherwise noted, all translations are my own.[/ref]                

Paul was in prison because he shared the Gospel (Acts 28:16, 30-31; Phil 1:7, 13-14, 29-30), yet the Gospel had continued to spread. He does not want people to feel sorry for him and to shrink in their faith because of his circumstance.

1. Brothers or Brothers and Sisters

 Some more traditional translations will translate the beginning part of this passage as “brothers” (LEB, ESV, HCSB), “brethren” (NASB, KJV, NKJV, RSV, AV1873), “beloved” (NRSV), brothers and sisters (NIV, NLT), “my brothers” (O’Brien, Philippians, 89), “my dear family” (Wright, Paul for Everyone, 87). Comfort says that this is an “inclusive term commonly used to address both men and women” (Comfort, “Philippians” in Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, 158).

2. Rather

The adverb here, μᾶλλον, appears to have been moved up in the syntax of the sentence for emphasis. Greek often moves a word up in the sentence in order to provide emphasis (F. Blass, A. Debrunner, A Greek Grammar of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, edited by Robert Funk[University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL: 1961], 248-249).

What is the emphasis here?

Paul was saying that while his reader would assume that the Gospel progress should have slowed while he was in prison it rather had advanced! What Paul was saying was the opposite of his readers thought he would say. The implication is that local people probably thought that because of Paul’s imprisonment the Gospel would be hindered. Rather! The Gospel has advanced!

3. Paul’s Circumstances

The circumstances of Paul was that he was likely in prison in Rome.

4. The Gospel Has Advanced

Paul’s circumstances have served to advance the Gospel. Here, προκοπη denotes progress and prosperity in the physical, economic, and social sphere (O’Brien, Philippians, 90). BDAG explains this word as “a movement forward to an improved state, progress, advancement, furtherance” (BDAG, 871). This word “was used of pioneers cutting the way through tough terrain before an army so that the troops could advance (TDNT 6:703-719).

The idea here is that Paul was pioneering the way for the spread of the Gospel (Comfort, Philippians, 158). The Gospel is piercing its way through darkness. See this word also used in Phil 1:25; 1 Tim 4:15.

“This section [Phil 1:12-18] is one of those portions in Paul’s writing where we may wish we were given more information” (Comfort, “Philippians” in Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, 159).

B. Outside the Christian Community (v. 13)

“As a result, the entire praetorium and everyone else knows that my bondage is for Christ” (Phil 1:13)

1. As a Result

The ὥστε “so that” introduces the results of προκοπη “advancement.” This conjunction gives the result of of the Gospel advancing mentioned in Phil 1:12. In other words, because of Paul’s imprisonment outside knew why Paul was imprisoned (v. 13) and believers became bold because of it (v. 14).

2. Praetorium

“Imperial Guard” or “praetorian” probably is the Roman imprisonment that Paul had endured, and under which he was eventually killed  (Acts 28:16, 30-31). However, “This does not automatically identify Rome as the city from which Paul wrote his letter, for each province had its own praetorian. Nonetheless, Rome is the most likely place (Comfort, Philippians, 158).

O’Brien provides four specific options for the location of this “praetorium.”

  • The Emperor’s palace. Some early commentators took this view, however there is little evidence that the word “πραιτώριον / praetorium” means the Emperor’s palace.
  • The barracks attached to the imperial palace. This also is an unlikely view because the word does not give evidence to this use.  
  • A body of men (not a palace).  The last option is the most likely place because of ancient inscriptions and reference to people (O’Brien, Philippians, 93). Therefore, they were an elite group of troops stationed in Rome who likely watched Paul in four-hour shifts (Fee, Philippians,113; McGee, Thru the Bible, vol. 5, 297). It also is the predominant view of modern scholars. This view is held by O’Brien, Philippians, 93; Barclay, The Letter to the Philippians, 25; Fee, Philippians, 113.

C. Inside the Christian Community (v. 14)

“and most of the brothers having become confident in the Lord because of my bonds are daring fearlessly even more to speak the Word.” (Phil 1:14)

In my translation I have used only “brothers” for the sake of keeping the sentence short. However, BDAG (the best Greek lexicon) puts this word in a category of meaning “as pertaining in terms of a close affinity, brother, fellow member, member, associate.” Different translations sometimes reflect this: “brethren” (NASB, KJV1900, NKJV, RSV, AV 1873), “brothers” (LEB, ESV, NRSV, HCSB), “believers” (NLT), “brothers and sisters” (NIV).


A. Varied Preaching Motives (v. 15)

“Indeed, some are preaching Christ on one hand because of envy and strife, while others because of good will.” (Phil 1:15)

1. Bad Motives 

The Gospel was being shared but not with the same motives by everyone. φθονος (“envy, jealousy” NLT choses “jealousy”) and ἐρις (“strife, contention” or as the NLT translates it “rivalry”) were well known ethical terms that turn up in the lists of “vices” in Paul’s time (O’Brien, Philippians, 99). AT Robertson says that these two words are “surely the lowest of motives for preaching Christ” (Word Pictures).

  • φθονος here has the nuance of trying to deprive a person of the desired thing rather than to gain it (Mark 15:10; Matt 27:18; Rom 1:29; Gal 5:21; 1 Tim 6:4; Tit 3:3; 1 Peter 2:1-2; James 4:5).
  • ἐρις is often with φθονος in Rom 1:29; Gal 5:20; Phil 1:15; 1 Tim 6:4; Tit 3:9. It also occurs with ξηλος (“jealousy, envy”) at Rom 13:13; 1 Cor 3:3; 2 Cor 12:20.

2. The Identity of these Impure Motive Preachers

There are a couple of different views about who these guys were that were preaching with impure motives.

  • A Rival Christian Group. Some believe that this was a group opposed to Paul’s specific (and unique) view of the gospel. In this manner, they were a rival Christian group. These people, according to Barclay, “were preachers who were out to enhance their own prestige and to undermine Paul’s influence, when he was in prison” (Barclay, The Letter to the Philippians, 29).
  • Ordinary Pagans. These were regular people who heard about the Gospel and were talking about it on the street. One commentator on this passage states, “’Have you heard?’ they’ll be saying to each other. ‘They’ve caught that strange fellow who’s been going around saying there’s a new king – a new emperor! And you won’t believe it – this new king turns out to be a Jew whom they crucified a few years ago, and this jailbird is saying he’s alive again and he’s the real Lord of the world!’” (Wright, Revelation for Everyone, 89-90). This view is held by Wright, Paul for Everyone, 89).

B. Preaching from Love (v. 16)  

“The latter preach from love, because they know that I am appointed for defense of the Gospel.” (Phil 1:16)

Part of following God’s agenda is defending God, the Bible, and ourselves. The Greek word used here for “defense” is ἀπολογια. According to BDAG, this word is eight times in the New Testament both by Paul and Peter.

It is used by Paul in Acts 22:1 when Paul is arrested and says, “listen to me as I offer my defense” (NLT, emphasis added). In Acts 25:16 he says that he should “be given an opportunity to make a defense against accusation” (NET, emphasis added). In 1 Cor 9:3, “This is my defense to those who examine me” (NET, emphasis added). In court Paul uses it in 2 Tim 4:16, “at my first defense” (NET, emphasis added) and when Paul is facing trial under Roman law. Another way that this word is used as an act of making a defense is to defend oneself (2 Cor 7:11) as well as defending the Gospel which is seen here in Phil 1:16 and Phil 1:7 where Paul says that the Philippian believers share the burden with him to defend the good news. Lastly, Peter uses this word to say that believers should “always [be] prepared to make a defense to anyone” (ESV, emphasis added).

Dr. David Miller, my lead pastor at Rocky Hill Community Church likes to use a quote by Charles Spurgeon that I feel is very fitting here. “There seems to me to have been twice as much done in some ages in defending the Bible as in expounding it, but if the whole of our strength shall henceforth go to the exposition and spreading of it, we may leave it pretty much to defend itself. I do not know whether you see that lion—it is very distinctly before my eyes; a number of persons advance to attack him, while a host of us would defend the grand old monarch, the British Lion, with all our strength. Many suggestions are made and much advice is offered. This weapon is recommended, and the other. Pardon me if I offer a quiet suggestion. Open the door and let the lion out; he will take care of himself. Why, they are gone! He no sooner goes forth in his strength than his assailants flee. The way to meet infidelity is to spread the Bible. The answer to every objection against the Bible is the Bible” (Charles Spurgeon, Speeches at Home and Abroad, May 5, 1875).

C. Preaching from Selfish Ambition (v. 17)

“But others are preaching Christ from selfish ambition—not sincerely—thinking it will bring affliction to my imprisonment.” (Phil 1:17)

This is an explanation of those preaching from “envy/jealousy” and “strife/contention.”

ἐριθεια (“selfishness” or per NLT, “selfish ambition”) is a word found before New Testament times only in Aristotle and is a self-seeking pursuit of political office by using unfair tactics. It is selfishness or ambition (O’Brien, Philippians, 101). See its use in Rom 2:8; 2 Cor 12:20; Gal 5:20; Phil 2:3; James 3:14, 16

θλιψιν (θλιψις, εως, ἡ — “affliction, trouble”) has a variety of meanings, but here it is an “inward experience of distress, affliction, trouble” (BDAG, 457). Also see 2 Cor 2:4.


“So what? Except that in any and every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is being preached, and in this I rejoice. Again I will rejoice!” (Phil 1:18)

Another good translation of this is “What does it matter” or “What are we to think?” This is Paul’s response to those who are preaching with unselfish motives (vv. 15, 17). He’s glad that the truth is being preached! Christ is being proclaimed!

The same should be true of us today.

For instance, many people of the Seminary I attended did not believe the Bible allows women to preach But, I once heard the story of a famous graduate of the Seminary I attended—H. A. Ironside—who was walking in a park in Oakland, California. A woman was preaching in that park as Dr. Ironside and his friend walked by. Dr. Ironside’s friend looked to Dr. Ironside and said, “Isn’t it a shame that this woman is here preaching?” Dr. Ironside said, “Isn’t it a shame that there is not some man to take her place?” The implication was that Christ was being preached and that there was no man on that corner preaching, so why not a woman?


A. Praise others when the Gospel is shared.

One of the things I like to do is listen to music on YouTube while I work at home. Occasionally I will type “Johnny Cash” into the search and let his music play for a while. I was intrigued recently when I heard his song, “When the Man Comes Around” (American IV: The Man Comes Around, 2002). The song starts with Johnny saying, “And I heard, as it were, the noise of thunder. One of the four beasts saying, “Come and see.” And I saw. And behold, a white horse.” Then the song ends with, “And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts. And I looked, and behold, a pale horse. And the name that was on him was ‘death.’ And hell followed with him.” And in another song I have heard him say, “I heard Jesus say, ‘Johnny go do my will!’”

I often wondered if he really saw a vision of four beasts and if Jesus really had spoken to him. Or, were those just examples of years and years of alcohol and drugs still working their way through his brain? However, I eventually came to the conclusion that regardless of where that vision and voice came from, like Paul I should rejoice in the fact that Jesus was being shared! Thousands of people heard him sing those songs live in concert and now because of the internet, literally millions of people have watched those music videos on YouTube. I should rejoice that Jesus is being preached and not care what the motives are behind them!

B. God brings good through difficult circumstances.

I am hesitant to share this as an application because I never want to diminish the suffering and troubles that someone is going through. However, in these seven verses Paul makes it clear that even though he was in prison the Gospel continued to advanced through the efforts of the people he had trained and the efforts of those who had false motives.

The fact of the matter is that Paul was able to preach to these people in the “praetorium” because he was in prison. Those people likely would have never heard the Gospel if it were not for Paul being there to share it with them.

C. In Closing this Blog Post

As we close our time together I want to return to the story about Martin Luther King. I think his story is powerful not just because of the conviction that he had for a cause that he believed was biblical and just, but also because of what happened as a result of his time in jail. I mentioned that while he was in jail in Birmingham he wrote a letter to the white clergyman who had written a letter to the newspaper criticizing him. Dr. King’s letter in response to those men included several facts: that Dr. King was invited to work in Birmingham (he wasn’t an outsider), that Dr. King was there in Birmingham because of injustice there. “I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham.” He provided justification for why “sit ins” and “marches” were a better avenue than negation for desegregation, he provided a legal explanation for why peaceful protests were legal, an explanation for why segregation laws were unjust. Even more importantly, Dr. King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail sent courage into a generation of people to stand up for African American equal rights and for the pursuit of desegregation. Dr. King’s letter was written on April 16, 1963 and on May 2, 1,000 boys and girls gathered in Birmingham to peacefully protest. On May 10 an agreement was reached in Birmingham to desegregate stores, restaurants, and schools. On June 23 125,000 people participated in the “Freedom Walk” in Detroit, Michigan. On Aug 28th as many as 500,000 people (25 percent of them were white) peacefully assembled for the March on Washington. Later President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act on July 3, 1964. Perhaps I am placing too much emphasis on Dr. King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail, but that letter has continued to give people courage to stand up for the biblical idea of equal rights not just in the United States, but historians say it has positively influenced civil rights movements in the Czech Republic, Poland, South Africa, and China.

I hope that the message I am making here is clear. The apostle Paul was following God’s agenda about how the Gospel was supposed to spread. Dr. Martin Luther King was following God’s agenda achieve equal civil rights among whites and blacks. Just as Dr. King was in difficult circumstances as he wrote his letter from jail, and just as Paul sent out this letter to his beloved brothers and sisters in Philippi from prison, perhaps we too can find courage to follow God’s agenda which is kingdom advancement.

By Christopher L. Scott

Christopher L. Scott serves as senior pastor at Lakeview Missionary Church in Moses Lake, Washington. Through his writing ministry more than 250,000 copies of his articles, devotions, and tracts are distributed each month through Christian publishers. Learn more at